Waxahatchee – Saint Cloud

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“You have to grow up, start paying the rent and have your heart broken before you understand country,” Emmylou Harris said in 2008, explaining why, as a Southern teen, she initially rejected “boring” country music in favour of the folk revival. It’s a familiar tale to another musician from Harris’s hometown of Birmingham, Alabama, Katie Crutchfield. Raised on classic country, punk led her astray in her early teens, and she joined her twin sister Allison in bands The Ackleys, PS Eliot and Bad Banana. After going solo as Waxahatchee, Crutchfield dissected bad love and directionless feelings with melancholic indie-rock, peaking with 2017’s Out In The Storm, which exorcised a bad relationship in noisy guitars, thrilling in the potential energy of coming back to yourself.

Now, a breakup of a different kind has drawn her back to her musical roots: Saint Cloud was written and recorded during a period when Crutchfield decided to get sober, and seeks a new way to be by the light of “country powerhouse women”, a musical obsession sparked by an epiphanic conversion to Lucinda Williams’s Car Wheels On A Gravel Road.

Of course, Saint Cloud, whose players include members of Detroit alt.country crew Bonny Doon, doesn’t sound quite like Williams, or Harris, or Linda Ronstadt: Crutchfield’s country is flavoured by decades of alt- and indie- hybrids, particularly the likes of Crutchfield’s avowed heroes Jenny Lewis (she has a Rilo Kiley tattoo) and Neko Case. And despite country’s longstanding romance with the rich melancholy that collects in the bottom of an empty bourbon glass, there are no gory addiction-memoir specifics here: none of the “bottles in my closet” mentioned in passing on Cerulean Salt’s “Swan Dive”, just a feeling of reckoning, resolve and clarity, if not contentment.

Even as Crutchfield pushes her voice in her most beguiling melodic hooks yet, her words explore ongoing restlessness. The sense of warmth and uplift is all in the music, rich with bright chords and hooks, pulling her forward even as she sings of feeling pulled back on the likes of “War”, with its rolling drums and attacking, ringing strums hitting a three-note reveille, or “Can’t Do Nothing”, which, over rich golden twangs, captures Crutchfield’s twitchy transition in a line worthy of Emmylou: “My eyes roll around like dice on the felt… my uneasiness materialised.”

“Lilacs”, in particular, bristles and sparkles with the interplay of frustrated struggle and the beauteous ease of the sound: Crutchfield finds herself irritable, empty, sitting at her piano looking for a song as fruitless time is measured in the water sucked up by thirsty flowers. Tension builds in the sparkling strums and metronomic beat to a radiant explosion of a chorus, breaking down, circling back and rebuilding over and over, as Crutchfield resolves to fake it until she makes it: “Lean in to an urgent falter, spin silence into gold… I run it like I’m happy, baby/ Like I got everything I want.”

Sobriety isn’t a magic fix, and neither is love, of course. Many of the songs find Crutchfield spooked and reluctant as she relearns romance. The hard ringing strums of “Hell” blossom into gorgeous beauty, Crutchfield’s voice deep and tough as she wrangles an uneasy but honest happiness: “I hover above like a deity, but you don’t worship me/You strip the illusion, you did it well.” On “Fire”, written shortly after getting sober, piano glows softly and guitars pulse and chime as she addresses the even thornier problem of trying to love herself, and resolves to take things a day at a time: “I’m wiser and slow and attuned… I can learn to see with a partial view.”

Waxahatchee’s vision is clearer on Saint Cloud as its songs range from Barcelona in grungy, meandering opener “Oxbow”, to her father’s Floridian home town in the closing title track, but the sunlit uplands seem always over the horizon. The journey, soundtracked by the music of the great American vista, is more than enough, and she doesn’t find herself alone on the road: in the bouncy, punchy “Witches”, female friends and family (Marlee, Allison, Lindsey) give her hope for the future. “The myth without struggle, babe,” Crutchfield reminds herself as she leaves the rock’n’roll lifestyle in the rearview, “it can’t fill your heart.”

Watch James Elkington’s lockdown session for Uncut

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As announced yesterday, Uncut has launched a new series of lockdown sessions in conjunction with the consistently excellent Paradise Of Bachelors label.

First in the weekly series is James Elkington, whose recent album Ever-Roving Eye earned a 9/10 review in the magazine and is available to buy or stream by clicking here.

Watch James’s six-song session, recorded at his Chicago home, below:

James Elkington played:

1. Nowhere Time
2. The Hermit Census
3. Carousel
4. Sleeping Me Awake
5. Leopards Lay Down
6. Make It Up

Check back at 6pm BST next Thursday (May 21) for a spectacular session from Itasca! Jake Xerxes Fussell follows on May 28, with Michael Chapman on June 4.

Laura Marling announces Union Chapel livestream

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Laura Marling has announced that she will livestream a pair of solo concerts from London’s Union Chapel on June 6.

One set, for British and European fans, will start at 8pm UK time with tickets costing £12 available from here.

The second set, for North American fans, will start at 7pm EST with tickets costing $12 available from here.

According to a press release, “The unusual undertaking at one of her favourite venues will involve skeletal staff and crew, but benefits from full production and a multi-camera shoot, bucking the trend for widespread artist live show postponement right across the globe. The announcement also offers a tentative step in helping to aid the flagging live sector, and sets a potentially positive new precedent for other artists suffering from the loss of live earnings.”

Uncut launches lockdown sessions with Paradise Of Bachelors

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Uncut will launch a new series of lockdown sessions in conjunction with the esteemed Paradise Of Bachelors label from 6pm BST tomorrow (May 14).

First in the weekly series will be James Elkington, followed by Itasca, Jake Xerxes Fussell and Michael Chapman. All four artists have taped the sessions live from their respective lockdown retreats, exclusively for Uncut.

To watch, simply click back to the Uncut website from 6pm tomorrow. The sessions will remain posted indefinitely.

To give you an idea of what to expect, follow the links to read Uncut’s reviews of the terrific recent albums by James Elkington and Itasca.

Joy Division’s Closer reissued on clear vinyl for 40th anniversary

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Joy Division’s second and final album Closer is to be reissued on clear vinyl for its 40th anniversary on July 17.

The same day will also see the reissue of three non-album singles, “Transmission”, “Atmosphere” and “Love Will Tear Us Apart” on 180g 12-inch vinyl with remastered audio. These singles have never been repressed or reissued since Factory Records closed.

Check out the new Closer packaging and watch a teaser video below – and be sure to pick up the next issue of Uncut, out next week, which features the surviving members of Joy Division looking back at the making of “Love Will Tear Us Apart”.

Yes reschedule UK leg of Relayer tour for 2021

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Yes have rescheduled the UK leg of their Relayer tour for spring 2021.

The tour was originally due to kick off this month in Liverpool and will now begin on May 16, 2021, in Manchester. Check out the new dates below:

Sun 16th May – Manchester Bridgewater Hall
Mon 17th May – Birmingham Symphony Hall
Wed 19th May – York Barbican
Thurs 20th May – Gateshead Sage
Sat 22nd May – Liverpool Philharmonic Hall
Sun 23rd May – Nottingham Royal Concert Hall
Mon 24th May – London Royal Albert Hall
Fri 28th May – Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

All tickets remain valid for the rescheduled shows; new tickets are available via the official Yes site.

You can read an interview with Yes guitarist Steve Howe in the current issue of Uncut, in shops now or available to buy online by clicking here.

Watch Prince And The Revolution: Live on YouTube this weekend

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The 1985 concert film Prince And The Revolution: Live will be available to stream for free on YouTube for three days this weekend.

The film was captured at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, NY on March 30, 1985, towards the end of the Purple Rain Tour. It was originally released in 1985 on VHS and LaserDisc, followed by a DVD release included with the 2017 Purple Rain Remastered & Deluxe Edition.

Prince And The Revolution: Live can be viewed below from midnight BST on Thursday (May 14). The streaming event will run in support of the Covid-19 Solidarity Response Fund for the World Health Organisation (powered by UN Foundation and Swiss Philanthropy Foundation). Any viewer donations will include a matching component from Google.

The audio from the concert has been remastered by longtime Prince mastering engineer Bernie Grundman, and will be available officially in digital format for the first time across all streaming and download platforms on Friday (15 May).

You can read all about the Purple Rain tour – which Prince completed concurrently with the recording of Around The World In A Day – in the latest issue of Uncut, in shops now or available to purchase online by clicking here.

Watch David Gilmour play two Syd Barrett songs

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David Gilmour and Polly Samson have released their latest lockdown video as ‘The Von Trapped Family’. In it, Gilmour discusses his friendship with Syd Barrett and plays two of Barrett’s songs, “Octopus” and “Dominoes”.

Watch the full video below:

Gilmour also reveals that he is working on a definitive book of Syd Barrett lyrics. “The lyrics have never actually been printed properly,” says Gilmour. “Syd never wrote them down, they were never properly transcribed.”

While listening back to the isolated vocal takes of The Madcap Laughs, Gilmour reveals that he thinks Barrett might have actually sung “the mad cat laughs” in the song “Octopus”. Nonetheless, he says he prefers the album’s published title.

Kraftwerk – The Ultimate Music Guide

Celebrating 50 years of Kraftwerk and the life of their late co-founder Florian Schneider, this 124 page premium publication tells the story of the band’s evolution from experimental free rockers to electronic conceptualists, via archive features, in-depth new reviews and the occasional ice cream. Fahren, fahren, fahren!

The Ultimate Music Guide to Kraftwerk is in shops now and available to buy online by clicking here.

Hear Ray LaMontagne’s new song, “We’ll Make It Through”

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Ray LaMontagne has released a new six-minute song called “We’ll Make It Through”. No details have been provided about when and where it was recorded, although the sentiment seems apt for the current times.

Watch a sepia-tinted video for it below:

It’s not yet known if “We’ll Make It Through” will form part of an upcoming new Ray LaMontagne album. His last full-length was 2018’s Part Of The Light.

Bob Dylan pays tribute to Little Richard: “He was my shining star”

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Bob Dylan has paid tribute to Little Richard, who has died at the age of 87.

The musician’s son, Danny Jones Penniman, confirmed the rock’n’roll pioneer’s death to Rolling Stone, adding that the cause of death was cancer.

Bob Dylan wrote: “He was my shining star and guiding light back when I was only a little boy. His was the original spirit that moved me to do everything I would do.”

Born in Macon, Georgia, on December 5, 1932, Richard was one of 12 children. His father was a preacher who also ran a nightclub, and his mother was a devout Baptist.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4 in 1998, he said he started singing because he wanted to stand out from his siblings.

“I was the biggest head of all, and I still have the biggest head,” he said. “I did what I did, because I wanted attention. When I started banging on the piano and screaming and singing, I got attention.”

As an artist, Little Richard’s breakthrough came in 1956 with the single “Tutti Frutti“, before cementing his fame and reputation with the run of hits “Long Tall Sally“, “Lucille” and “Good Golly, Miss Molly“, among others. His 1957 debut album, Here’s Little Richard, remains a template for the genre.

Earning the nickname “The Innovator, The Originator, and The Architect of Rock and Roll”, he had an immeasurable influence across the world of music – his flamboyant style and free-spirited attitude inspired the likes of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Elton John and countless more.

Little Richard was among the first group of inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986, and in the same year he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. He was also the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Recording Academy in 1993.

Among the many other tributes paid to Richard, are those from Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Ringo Starr, Jimmy Page, Brian Wilson, Iggy Pop and Steve Van Zandt.

Bob Dylan announces new album, Rough And Rowdy Ways

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Bob Dylan has revealed that his new album will be called Rough And Rowdy Ways. His first album of new material in eight years will be released by Columbia on June 19.

Hear the third song to be taken from it, “False Prophet”, below:

It follows the previously released singles, “Murder Most Foul” and “I Contain Multitudes”.

You can pre-order Rough And Rowdy Ways, which comes in 2xLP, 2xCD and digital formats, here – and check out the sleeve below.

The Handsome Family – Odessa/Milk And Scissors

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Brett and Rennie Sparks have been The Handsome Family since 1993. Few people outside Chicago, where they lived at the time, had heard them, however, before 1998’s Through The Trees. It was their third album, an early Americana landmark, and the template for the seven that followed. On all of them, Brett writes the music, often the kind of melodies surely first heard on a Carter Family porch on a far-off Appalachian afternoon. There are frequent twanging instances recalling Morricone western scores that conjure images of empty landscapes, dust blowing through deserted towns, tumbleweed a-rolling. His crooning baritone is often warmly reassuring, despite the horrors he’s usually singing about. Rennie writes the words, much influenced by traditional murder ballads, creepy folk tales, the world’s sheer oddness.

The familiar becomes disturbingly different in their songs. Nothing’s what it should be. That’s now the Manson Family sitting around a Thanksgiving table in a Norman Rockwell painting. The mutants from The Hills Have Eyes have moved into The Little House On The Prairie, scraps of blood-soaked gingham everywhere. Picture the characters and landscapes of Dylan’s John Wesley Harding reimagined by Edgar Allan Poe and David Lynch, in collaboration with Hank Williams. This is The Handsome Family’s world.

Odessa (1994) and Milk And Scissors (1996) return us to their Chicago beginnings. They were a trio then, with a drummer, Mike Werner. Anyone coming new to these reissues but otherwise familiar with The Handsome Family catalogue may be shocked by the racket they often make, especially on Odessa. On the guitar-driven “Here’s Hopin’”, they sound closer to Hüsker Dü than anything Harry Smith put on one of his anthologies of old, weird Americana. Violent guitar noises erupt throughout. “One Way Up”, for instance, is like an REM ballad until it’s interrupted by a Neil Young-esque solo.

Brett wrote the music and lyrics for 12 of the album’s 14 songs, which cover topics as cheerful as homicide, alienation and loss of faith. He fashioned a first-class country heartbreaker on “The Last”, a ghostly waltz with a guitar solo that sounds as if it’s dancing with itself under a pale winter moon. More commonly, his lyrics hint at the nightmarish song-stories Rennie was soon writing. “Big Bad Wolf” features a bikini-wearing wolf who digs kung fu movies. “Happy Harvest” is about pet murder and family derangement, much at odds with the music’s oompah jollity. Rennie’s contributions are a murder ballad and a song about bestiality.

Milk And Scissors has its share of outstanding guitar crackle, too. There’s a solo on “Winnebago Skeletons”, for a start, that sounds as if it’s about to go full “Powderfinger”. The version of the traditional “The House Carpenter” is set to a relentless Velvet Underground chug. “The King Who Wouldn’t Smile” has a cowpunk bounce, with jaunty slide guitar from Brett’s brother, Darrell. But they were already moving towards the more traditional sound of Through The Trees and everything after. Brett sings more softly, more often. There are acoustic guitars, pedal steel. Brett’s “# 1 Country Song” is done entirely straight. You can imagine George Jones covering it on one of his mid-’70s albums – Nothing Ever Hurt Me (Half As Bad As Leaving You), perhaps – with Charlie McCoy on harmonica, Billy Sherrill strings, the whole Nashville thing.

“Lake Geneva”, their audacious reworking of Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne”, refers to Brett’s ongoing mental health problems, for which he was hospitalised and diagnosed as bipolar. Rennie, also prone to depression, was writing all the words by now, and the songs abound with anthropomorphic absurdities – a poodle that thinks it’s a cowboy, a fish with dentures – but she’s already a specialist in trauma. “Emily Shore 1819-1839” describes the death of the eponymous 19th-century diarist (“She’d been coughing up blood since the dogwoods bloomed”). “Drunk By Noon” is full of murky fatalism, a dark anticipation of suffering to come. “Amelia Earhart Vs The Dancing Bear” imagines the intrepid aviator’s last moments “after her plane was torn apart and bursting through the trees”. “Tin Foil” is a song of sheer hopelessness, set to a toe-tapping two-step shuffle, the night’s last dance.

Much great music followed. But these records remain individually vital, the first stirrings of an extraordinary musical partnership.

Watch the latest edition of Neil Young’s Fireside Sessions

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Neil Young has uploaded the fourth instalment of his Fireside Sessions, recorded at his home in Colorado.

Following the format of previous editions, he opens with a song played outside overlooking the mountains (“One Of These Days”) before moving inside to perform acoustic versions of “Good To See You”, “Daddy Went Walking” and his first ever public rendition of “Through My Sails” from 1975’s Zuma.

He also sits at the piano to play “After The Gold Rush”, “Mother Earth” and “Are You Ready For The Country”.

Watch the entire session here, though bear in mind you need to be signed up to Neil Young Archives or have the app downloaded first.

Read Michael Rother’s eulogy to Florian Schneider

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Writing exclusively for Uncut, Neu!’s Michael Rother – also briefly of Kraftwerk – remembers Florian Schneider and his “thoroughly exciting” musical vision.

“The news of Florian Schneider’s passing hit me like a blow. Even though we hadn’t met or spoken for many years, he was always firmly in my mind as one of the most important musical figures of my life. In the late ’60s, we were both pupils at the same school in Düsseldorf (Rethel Gymnasium), and I noticed this guy with an awkward way of walking who played flute in the classical orchestra. He was obviously different from all the other pupils, an outsider.

“We didn’t talk then, but in early 1971, when I was serving time in a mental hospital as a conscientious objector and feeling very lonely with my wish of creating a new music that was not based on Anglo-American rock/pop roots and structures, coincidence led me to a studio in Düsseldorf where some film music was to be recorded. The name of the band working in that studio was Kraftwerk.

“I didn’t know the band and thought the name rather silly but the musicians Ralf Hütter, with whom I jammed there, and Florian Schneider, who only listened to our session, changed my world. Shortly after this first meeting, Florian called me and invited me to join Kraftwerk and to play some concerts.

“Florian had a unique metal construction onstage on which he assembled his effect units and a mixer. He played an electrified violin which he ran through a fuzz box and a wah-wah pedal, and a flute which he treated with delay and a unit that changed the pitch to one octave down. Especially this flute, and the way Florian played it like a crazy fast-forward bass, was thoroughly exciting and unheard before. Unfortunately, the sound engineers who did the recordings at Beat Club (TV) and Radio Bremen didn’t understand that Florian’s contributions to our sound were much more interesting and vital than my guitar playing, and so they put Florian too low in the audio mix.

“The trio with Florian, Klaus Dinger on drums and myself on guitar only lasted for 5 or 6 months but I remember some truly exciting concerts, and everything that followed in my musical life had a connection to this beginning with Ralf and Florian. After we separated in July 1971, Klaus and I continued as a duo (Neu!) and Florian got back together with Ralf Hütter.

“We met again in 1974 when I played Harmonia’s first album to Ralf and Florian. I remember being happy that they were impressed. Florian called me later in 1974 and asked whether I’d be interested in joining them for a Kraftwerk tour (Autobahn) but at that time I was happily working with Harmonia and also Neu!, and therefore declined the offer.

“In later years, the music of Kraftwerk always stayed on my horizon although I didn’t put the records on at home myself. Friends of mine who were big fans of Kraftwerk played them, and until today, I admire the reduction and clarity in their music. Florian and his ideas will stay with me and the many musicians he influenced.”

Kraftwerk’s Florian Schneider has died, aged 73

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Kraftwerk co-founder Florian Schneider has died, aged 73. According to The Guardian, he died of cancer last week and had a private burial, although the news was only made public today (May 6).

Born Florian Schneider-Esleben in 1943, Schneider was encouraged by his architect father Paul to pursue avant-garde musical endeavours. In the artistic/musical flux of late 1960s Dusseldorf, he worked first with a proto-industrial group called PISSOFF, but on meeting architecture student Ralf Hutter at a jazz improvisation course, the pair began an enduring collaboration.

It started on record with the short-lived improv group Organisation, but quickly evolved, in 1970, into Kraftwerk, a band whose early free-rock advances in songs like “Ruckzuck” were led by Schneider’s treated flute. When Hutter returned to architecture studies that year, Schneider and other Dusseldorf musicians kept the Kraftwerk project afloat.

Schneider shunned publicity as the band evolved their run of core albums, concentrating instead on the band’s audio presentation. His vision helped the group explore thrilling new musical possibilities on hugely influential albums such as Autobahn, The Man-Machine and Computer World.

Schneider left Kraftwerk’s touring lineup in 2008. He re-emerged in 2015 with his only solo work, bearing a familiar electronic pulse, but with a timely environmental message: “Stop Plastic Pollution”.

“Such an important influence upon so much of the music we know,” wrote Gary Kemp on Twitter, “from Bowie, to electronica, much of the 80s and beyond into modern techno and rap, Florian Schneider was forging a new Metropolis of music for us all to live in. RIP”

“Another of my great heroes gone” wrote Thomas Dolby, while Midge Ure remarked that Schneider was “way ahead of his time”.

Fontaines DC announce new album, A Hero’s Death

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Fontaines DC have announced that their new album, A Hero’s Death, will be released by Partisan on July 31.

Watch a video for the title track, starring Game Of Thrones actor Aidan Gillen, below:

Says singer Grian Chatten: “The song is a list of rules for the self, they’re principles for self-prescribed happiness that can often hang by a thread. It’s ostensibly a positive message, but with repetition comes different meanings, that’s what happens to mantras when you test them over and over. There’s this balance between sincerity and insincerity as the song goes on and you see that in the music video as well. That’s why there’s a lot of shifting from major key to minor key. The idea was influenced by a lot of the advertising I was seeing – the repetitive nature of these uplifting messages that take on a surreal and scary feel the more you see them.

“The title came from a line in a play by Brendan Behan, and I wrote the lyrics during a time where I felt consumed by the need to write something else to alleviate the fear that I would never be able follow up Dogrel. But more broadly it’s about the battle between happiness and depression, and the trust issues that can form tied to both of those feelings.”

A Hero’s Death was again produced by Dan Carey at his studio in London. Check out the artwork and tracklisting below:

1. I Don’t Belong
2. Love Is The Main Thing
3. Televised Mind
4. A Lucid Dream
5. You Said
6. Oh Such A Spring
7. A Hero’s Death
8. Living In America
9. I Was Not Born
10. Sunny
11. No

The 6th Uncut New Music Playlist Of 2020

Sorry it’s been so long since we last posted a Playlist – lots going on, as you can imagine. Anyway, here’s a selection of excellent new music — half of them from Bandcamp, who are today waiving their revenue share on all purchases. Lots to recommend from Craven Faults, Nathan Salsburg, Chris Forsyth, Joan Shelley and Jess Williamson. Also, Fripp’s splendid return to ambient soundscapes with the first instalment of his Music For Quiet Moments series. Dig in!

Should also say, here’s a hopefully helpful guide (should you need it) to reading Uncut during the current lockdown.

Follow me on Twitter @MichaelBonner

1.
ROBERT FRIPP

“Music For Quiet Moments 1 – Pastorale (Mendoza 3rd Jan 2007)”
(DGM)

2.
CRAVEN FAULTS

“Deipkier”
(Bandcamp)

3.
THOM YORKE

“Plasticine Figures”
(unreleased)

4.
NATHAN SALSBURG

“Landwerk 03”
(Bandcamp)

5.
SHAW & GROSSFELDT

“Klavier”
(Bandcamp)

6.
CHRIS FORSYTH

“Techno Top: Solar Live Vol 4, 9.27.19”
(Bandcamp)

7.
JOAN SHELLEY

“Bed In The River”
(Bandcamp)

8.
WILLIAM TYLER

“Flowers Of The Forest”
(Soundcloud)

9.
BON IVER

“PDLIF (Please Don’t Live In Fear”)
(directrelief.org)

10.
LUCY DACUS

“Tom Courtenay”
(Matador)

11.
JESS WILIAMSON

“Smoke”
(Bandcamp)

12.
DION

“Hymn To Him” with Patti Scialfa and Bruce Springsteen
(Keeping The Blues Alive Records)

Roberta Flack – First Take: 50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition

The quiet hum of appreciation that greeted Roberta Flack’s debut album in the summer of 1969 reflected the difficulty experienced by many critics of placing her on the spectrum of black female singers at the turn of the decade. Unlike Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight or Mavis Staples, there seemed to be no obvious church-raised fire in her delivery. She lacked the raw blues spirit that suffused the voices of Tina Turner or Etta James. And she was certainly not the willing mouthpiece, as Dionne Warwick and Diana Ross had become, of a team of pop svengalis. She was her own woman from the start, and that made her harder to figure out.

As time passed it became clear that there was only one of her near-contemporaries with whom she could plausibly be compared. Like Flack, Nina Simone had studied classical piano and composition before her performances as a nightclub entertainer became the stepping stone to fame. The difference – a big one, rooted in temperament – came in Flack’s ability to accept and enjoy her status in popular music. True enough, after her first British concert at the Hammersmith Odeon in 1972 she told an interviewer – James Johnson of the NME – that “one day I’d like to come back and conduct the London Symphony Orchestra”; she never did, but there were no signs of emulating Simone’s unshakeable bitterness over the career she did not have.

Now reissued in a slightly belated but nonetheless welcome 50th-anniversary deluxe edition, First Take is an opening statement of remarkable vision, authority and maturity. If that is a testament to Flack’s own inherent qualities, perhaps it also has something to do with the fact that she was into her thirties when she recorded it, with years of studying, teaching and performing music behind her. Born in Black Mountain, North Carolina, in 1937, she had been brought up in Washington DC, where she attended Howard University.

Jobs accompanying singers in clubs honed her versatility and led eventually to her own residency at Mr Henry’s, a popular hangout for visiting celebrities. It was Les McCann, a star of the soul-jazz movement, who was so taken with her in 1968 that he taped one of her shows – a tempo-less version of the supper-club standard “All The Way” from that set leads off the second CD in this package – and then, having taken on the role of manager, arranged an audition with Joel Dorn, a bright young A&R man and producer at Atlantic Records.

Dorn, who died in 2007, aged 65, had big ears and a gift for identifying and accentuating the most interesting characteristics of talented artists. After taking Flack into the studio to record the dozen demos that, previously unreleased, complete the second CD, he helped her strip away both the more conventional and the more adventurous elements of her repertoire. Out went the finger-snapping versions of warhorses like “On The Street Where You Live” and “This Could Be The Start Of Something” that others could do at least as well and with greater conviction; also banished was the explicit influence of contemporary jazz evident on “Afro Blue” (a Mongo Santamaria tune that had become a staple of John Coltrane’s live shows) and a recasting of the traditional “Frankie And Johnny” against the modal vamp from Miles Davis’s “All Blues”.

The demos – with Marshall Hawkins on bass and Bernard Sweetney on drums, her regular DC partners – give a pretty good picture of what it would have been like to wander into Mr Henry’s and listen to this unknown singer-pianist leading her trio through a programme of songs seemingly constructed to provide something for everyone. But even casual listeners would have had their ears pinned back by a spine-tingling version of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” that seems to prefigure the mood and trajectory of “Tears Dry On Their Own”, the epic of romantic defiance that Amy Winehouse built on the same template.

Dorn would have been particularly attracted to her treatment of a couple of ballads, “It’s Way Past Suppertime” and “The House Song”, which showcase her ability to slow down time almost to a standstill, creating emotional tension through a secure control of sustained vocal tones and a perfect command of silence. It’s hard to imagine the courage it must have taken to develop this approach in the face of the average nightclub audience; eventually, by her own testimony, she could rely on the regular customers to persuade newcomers to show the necessary respect and attentiveness.

No material from these demos was repeated in the running order of First Take, recorded three months later in the same studio, during a mere 10 hours of session time. The album begins with Eugene McDaniels’ confrontational “Compared To What”, first recorded by McCann four years earlier and later becoming famous in his live-at-Montreux version with Eddie Harris. Here, an irresistible riff stated by Ron Carter’s double bass introduces Flack’s measured reading of the angry lyric: “The president, he’s got his war/Folks don’t know just what it’s for/No-one gives us rhyme or reason/Have one doubt, they call it treason.” William Fischer’s arrangement uses half-a-dozen veteran horn players from the Count Basie band to provide soulful punctuations.

Then the album takes a striking and emphatic turn, dropping the tempo way down with “Angelitos Negros” – a setting of a verse by the Venezuelan poet/politician Andrés Eloy Blanco – and “Our Ages Or Our Hearts”, co-written by Donny Hathaway and Robert Ayers, its drama heightened by Fischer’s string chart. Flack takes the traditional gospel song “I Told Jesus” about as far from the Baptist holy-roller model as could be imagined: her subdued, unhurried reading would barely make a candle flicker. As with so much of her music, its power lies in its restraint.

If that is less true of her somewhat placid reading of Leonard Cohen’s “Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye”, it is redoubled for her spellbound version of Ewan MacColl’s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”. This is the song that changed her fortunes when, two years later, it was featured by Clint Eastwood in his film Play Misty for Me, going on to win the 1973 Grammy for record of the year. No longer was she an artist with industry respect but minimal sales.

The tempo lifts to an easy lope for “Tryin’ Times”, written by Donny Hathaway and Leroy Hutson, again riding on Carter’s bass and allowing Flack to give us a hint of her blues chops, before the album concludes with “Ballad Of The Sad Young Men”, a gorgeous saloon song with a melody by Tommy Wolf and a lyric by Fran Landesman. Here she floats Landesman’s rueful, worldly poetry – “Sing a song of sad young men, glasses full of rye/All the news is bad again, kiss your dreams goodbye” – on a cushion of silken strings with all the elegance and attention to the fine detail of timbre and cadence that made her artistry so exceptional. And one thing hasn’t changed in 50 years: the harder you listen to her, the more you’re likely to get in return.

Hear Dion’s new single, featuring Bruce Springsteen and Patti Scialfa

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Dion’s new album Blues With Friends will be released on Friday June 5 via Keeping The Blues Alive Records.

It features an impressive array of guests, including Bruce Springsteen, Van Morrison, Paul Simon, Jeff Beck, Billy Gibbons and many more.

Following the release of “Blues Comin’ On” last week, you can now hear another single from it – “Hymn To Him”, featuring Bruce Springsteen and Patti Scialfa – below:

Blues With Friends is available for pre-order from here.