LIVE from Your Speakers: Roberta Flack & Peabo Bryson: LIVE & MORE
Roberta Flack and Peabo Bryson were naturally complementary singers who might have been bigger as a duo, had they begun their partnership earlier in their respective careers. As it was, Flack had spent the ‘70s making a brace of classic records on her own, and had found a tremendous musical partnership with the late Donny Hathaway. Bryson spent a lengthy apprenticeship with small-time groups in the South before scoring three consecutive gold records on his own in 1978 and ‘79 (including WE’RE THE BEST OF FRIENDS, a well-received album with Natalie Cole).
Flack and Bryson shared management, and after Hathaway’s untimely death in 1979, the two paired up in the studio and on the stage, the first fruits of which can be heard on 1980’s LIVE & MORE.
The album-opening tandem of “Only Heaven Can Wait (For Love)" and "You Are My Heaven” sets the stage perfectly, as Flack and Bryson each take the lead on a song then come together to harmonize on the choruses. Their voices seem made to do this, but you don’t hear them do this again in concert, as a duo; indeed, if there’s one complaint about LIVE & MORE, it’s that there are more solo live performances than duets on the record.
Their solo spots are wonderful stuff, though. Flack’s “Killing Me Softly with His Song” has a simple instrumental arrangement, but when she is joined in full by her background singers (including the great Luther Vandross), it gives you goosebumps. Bryson cooks with his own “Reachin’ for the Sky,” getting the crowd on his side, and on “When Will I Learn” he moves from sexy tenor to upper-register shots that get the fans “Woo”-ing for him to go on.
The MORE part of the album is a collection of new studio duet recordings, three of them new Flack/Bryson-written songs. The bass-heavy smoothness of “Love Is a Waiting Game” is probably the best of the three, but the best moment comes in the final chorus of “More than Everything,” when Bryson’s voice takes flight, there’s a key modulation, Flack’s voice twirls around his, and the strings just lift the whole business up to the heavens. You never want them to land.
And that’s kinda the feeling the whole of LIVE & MORE leaves you with – these two made some beautiful music together, and one might hope it would never end. They did make more records together (and, with “Tonight, I Celebrate My Love” in 1983, they’d have a big hit), but on LIVE & MORE, it was fresh and new and the possibilities were endless.