The story of Bobby Womack is one of incredible proportions, starting off as a guitarist he worked with the likes of Wilson Pickett and Aretha Franklin before his solo career took off in the late 60′s. Between then and now Womack has established himself as one of the true great soul singers from that era. He’s also battled with scandalous romances, family tragedies, a long term drug addiction and most recently colon cancer, which he has since conquered. Having been through all this, at the tender age of 68 you wouldn’t blame him for taking a back seat. But the fire and enthusiasm expressed on this, his first solo record in twelve years tell’s us that there’s no slowing him down just yet.
The Bravest Man In The Universe see’s XL Records chief Richard Russell chance his arm at resurrecting a bonafide soul legend for the second time. The first being the late great Gil Scott-Heron back in 2010 with his album Im New Here, the major difference between the two is that XL’s twitchy electronic signatures and dub based beat work was a style that fitted well with Scott-Heron, unfortunately the same cant really be said for Womack. The trouble lies within the records production and instrumentation, neither sounds strong enough to carry Womack on this new wave he’s surfing atop. There are moments which do work but in general a lot of the more modern musical stylings feel very feint and thin. Although it has some nice touches to it “Please Forgive My Heart” sounds pretty diluted and weak, which is a real shame because the star of this record is without a doubt Womack’s voice. His vocals are just as soulful and weathered as before, the melodies he weaves throughout and the passion in which he delivers them shows how much he’s still got left in the tank. It’s just a shame that the instrumentation here dosent do them justice. I see what Russell and co producer Damon Albarn we’re going for here but it just dosent fit, whether thats because it’s a style that dosent quite suit Bobby’s sound or the production just isn’t up to snuff I dont know. What I do know however, is that with “Deep River” the albums finest and unfortunately shortest track, Womack shows us that with just his voice and acoustic guitar he can still work wonders.
It’s great to hear that roaring voice back with more stories to tell, but with an ill fitting sound sat behind him Bobby Womack’s return to the front line is met with muddled disappointment.