Bobby Womack : The Bravest Man In The Universe
Even during his '70s peak Bobby Womack was always an old soul, dispensing street wise wisdom. Now at 68-years-old, and after beating his drug and alcohol demons, he has truly grown into his position as a voice of experience in a crazy world.While he is best known for his 1972 soul classic Across 110th Street, Womack avoids the comeback stigma and proves that he still plenty to offer today’s listeners. After working together on the epic Gorillaz effort Plastic Beach and touring together extensively, Womack chose to work with Damon Albarn and Richard Russell, head of XL Recordings, exclusively on what he calls his first real album since 1994’s Resurrection. Albarn and Russell play the Rick Rubin to Womack’s Johnny Cash on The Bravest Man In The Universe and the results are nothing short of stellar. Rather than pander to the soul legend and his legacy Albarn chose to challenge Womack’s weathered voice, stripping him bare and free of the lavish orchestrations he once favoured. This approach is evident from the moment the opening title track begins, as the singer works his magic over a minimalist production. You can sense a new energy from Womack with each track. Believe it or not, Lana Del Rey is a perfect foil for Womack on the beguiling Dayglo Reflection. It almost makes you overlook the circus that surrounds Miss Del Rey and focus on her enigmatic performance. Almost. Womack teams up with another songbird for the equally powerful duet Nothin’ Can Save Ya. Malian singer Fatoumata Diawara has a textured voice that perfectly complements Womack’s legendarily smoky timber. At points in each duet he allows his guests to take centre stage, which is either a sign of respect or a way of preserving his voice during the recording process. Stand-out cut Whatever Happened To The Times is an excellent synthesis of his bluesy crooning and the lo-fi soul beats his collaborators are laying down. The sound was curiously dubbed “electronic secular gospel” by the record label.
While the partnership proves magical throughout the album there are a couple of times where the idea of taking Womack into new territory and out of his comfort zone falters. The up-tempo Love Is Gonna Lift You Up is perfectly catchy but affects the momentum somewhat and doesn’t quite mesh. The same could be said of Jubilee (Don’t Let Nobody Turn You Around), which finds Womack returning more to his gospel roots over a rather ill-fitting glitchy beat. Overlooking these misguided experimentations tracks like the moving If There Wasn’t Something There and Stupid could rank among some of his best work. It sounds natural to hear the influential performer being paired with heavier hip hop-style production. Coming in at just 11 tracks the album The Bravest Man In The Universe never outstays it’s welcome and moves along as effortlessly as Womack’s voice. If this is to be considered the big comeback of Bobby Womack it is a rousing and heartwarming success.
BY ANDREW 'HAZARD' HICKEY
Best Track: Whatever Happened To The Times
If You Like These, You’ll Like This: I Don't Know What the World Is Coming To BOBBY WOMACK, I’m New Here GIL SCOTT-HERON
In A Word: Triumphant