Bobby Womack’s albums The Poet (1981) and The Poet II (1984) were two of my favourite 80s releases, but I’ve not heard much else from Womack apart from the wonderful Across 110th Street, the mid 80s When the Weekend Comes and the co-write of The Rolling Stone’s It’s All Over Now.
The Bravest Man in the Universe is the first album of new material since the mid 1990s, and follows on from his 2010 Gorillaz appearance.
Damon Albarn and Richard Russell have to take a lot of credit for the direction this album has taken. Free of old-time soul cliches, the arrangements and instrumentation underpin some of Womack’s finest vocal performances.
The 68 year old soul singer has a new gritty tone to his vocals, that sit perfectly with the glitchy electronic backing to most of the songs.
Please forgive my heart could easily have sat on one of the classic Poet albums from the 80s, but where those tracks were quite conservative in their arrangement, the 2012 Womack tracks rely heavily on drum machines, decaying piano and dub bass.
Womack’s guitar playing on the end of Please forgive my heart and it’s following track, Deep River is sparse, honest and under-played. My only criticism is that his guitar playing should have featured more on the album.
Lana Del Rey duets with Womack on one of the albums key tracks, Dayglo Reflection. A sample of Sam Cooke speaking also features on the song, which has echoes of trip-hop’s finest band, Portishead.
Whatever happened to the times is build around a cheap, haunting organ refrain, and distorted, echo-laden vocals and has a spirit of experimentation rarely heard in the soul genre. This is the second time Womack has recorded this song – the first version was on 1985’s So Many Rivers album. The 2012 take simply blows the original out of the water. Stripped of Van Halenesque lead guitar and a gutteral vocal on the 80s original, the 2012 version pushes the emotion to the fore, and is no doubt the definitive recording of this song.
The late Gil Scott-Heron features on the intro to Stupid, a breakbeat driven song featuring bittersweet lyrics that appear to take aim at corrupt preachers.
The album fades a little toward the end, with Love is gonna lift you up feeling a little too light in comparison with the preceding tracks. Luckily the album picks up again with Nothin’ Can Save Ya, featuring Malian singer Fatoumata Diawara and the albums closing track, the soul standard Jubilee (Don’t Let Nobody Turn You Around).
So whilst both Poet albums will always hold a special place in my heart, The Bravest Man in the Universe has already become my favourite Bobby Womack album, and is one of my favourite albums of 2012. A career highlight, you bet!
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