Album Review: Bobby Womack The Bravest Man In The Universe

29 June 2012 | 1:28 pm | Christopher H James

The jury might be out on that one, but it has opened a new chapter for one of soul music’s most-travelled survivors.

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Old school R'n'B veterans don't die; they just fossilise for a while. Despite not putting out an album for 13 years, there were signs that Bobby “I wrote The Rolling Stones' first number one” Womack was ready to emerge from the tarpit; contributing to Gorillaz' 2010 Plastic Beach and impressing Damon Albarn so much that he commissioned this album.

Joining Albarn in the producer's chair was life-long fan Richard Russell, who also recorded the great Gil Scott-Heron's final release. Like that record, Russell provides similarly sparse dubstep-informed (think Burial rather than Skrillex) soundscapes; fine compliments for Womack's now-croaky delivery. It's a trait that perfectly fits tracks such as Please Forgive My Heart where Womack seems to be almost suffocating with emotion. Given his chequered personal history, it could easily be read as a sincere plea for redemption, as it sits alongside other philosophical/religious ruminations, including the anti-corrupt evangelist's torrent Stupid, which is introduced by Gil Scott-Heron (see, I told you old-school R'n'B vets don't die).

There's an obvious plan to round out the record with variety and some light to balance out the sorrow and foreboding gloom. Love Is Gonna Lift You Up moves into UK funky territory, whilst Jubilee is a banging-on-pots-and-pans hoedown. Both tracks are passable attempts, but hardly memorable.

Womack himself has declared this to be his best work. The jury might be out on that one, but it has opened a new chapter for one of soul music's most-travelled survivors

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