Bobby Womack – The Bravest Man In The Universe (XL)
July 4, 2012 by Sam Gelder
When Damon Albarn helped resurrect Bobby Womack’s career on the Gorillaz album Plastic Beach, the results made for an interesting listening. Here was Sam Cooke’s protégé, now 68, singing over synth loops and electro beats after having not been heard (or heard of) for 18 years. The voice was still there, albeit a lot rougher, but it was the way in which he tackled these new surroundings that made his return so refreshing.
Albarn seized the opportunity of having Womack back performing and with the help of Richard Russell of the UK’s coolest label, XL Recordings, also responsible for Gil Scott-Heron’s 2010 comeback record, produced The Bravest Man In The Universe.
Gil Scott-Heron was renowned for experimenting with sounds and styles, so when he returned with the electro tinged, Kanye West-sampling I’m New Here, listeners revelled, but were not shocked. Bobby Womack is a soul singer, he tried his hand at country music in the ‘70s but we are used to hearing him with a big backing band singing Blaxploitation numbers and love songs. It is a huge compliment to all involved here that he thrives on being supported by the minimalist production.
The industrious sounding title track sets the tone of the album, the stuttering drum track and scattered piano always present but never dominating, allowing Womack to showcase his 18 years of pent up emotions. The whole record feels like a huge release for Womack, whose (mostly) pain filled lyrics and yearning vocals carry it for its 37 minutes. Please Forgive My Heart is a heartbreaking ballad that stands up to any of his previous love songs, while Lana Del Rey brings the strings with her on Dayglo Reflection and does her reputation no harm at all. There is room for one uplifting soul number, which comes in the form of Love Is Gonna Lift You Up. Complete with backing vocals and a soul organ, it’s warming to hear him in such optimistic voice.
Rarely has a soul artist successfully married his own genre with electronic music, so for a 68-year-old soul artist to do it with his comeback effort is remarkable. We can only hope there is more to come, because he certainly has more to offer.