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Review: Rafiq Bhatia – ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’ (Feat. Cécile McLorin Salvant)

[Stereogum]

By Chris DeVille

Rafiq Bhatia - Standards

The always adventurous Rafiq Bhatia has a new EP called Standards Vol. 1 dropping at the end of this month. The premise is simple enough: Bhatia, an experimental pop artist signed to the rootsy, punk-adjacent ANTI- label, is presenting his own spin on a handful of songs so classic they’ve been covered many times before.

The first one we’re hearing is “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.” Penned in 1957, the definitive version belongs to Roberta Flack, whose version was indisputably the most dominant single of 1972; not only did it spend six weeks at #1, it was Billboard’s year-end #1 song and won both Record and Song Of The Year at the Grammys.

To reinterpret the track, Bhatia recruited singer Cécile McLorin Salvant, a Grammy winner in her own right. It’s inspired by their shared love of Twin Peaks, an influence that’s clear from the start. In a press release, Bhatia sings McLorin Salvant’s praises: “She’ll just stare at the audience as she sings. Her voice has all the agility and control in the world, yet that doesn’t stop her from going monotone, or ugly, or outright destructive. It’s an incredibly fluid conception of what the voice can and should do.” That all comes through in the recording, too. It’s a challenging, captivating listen.

TRACKLIST:
01 “In A Sentimental Mood”
02 “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” (Feat. Cecile McLorin Salvant)
03 “Lonely Woman”
04 “The Single Petal Of A Rose”

Standards Vol. 1 is out 1/31 on ANTI-. Pre-order it here.

Rafiq Bhatia
CREDIT: John Klukas