Whether you’re familiar with his origins with The Valentinos in the sixties, or simply a casual fan; there’s every reason to investigate Bobby Womacks’ first album of original material in eighteen years.
Borrowing more than a few tips from fellow American icon Gill Scott-Heron’s swansong album, 2010’s I’m New Here, should come as no surprise given the involvement of XL Recordings’ Richard Russell; who supervised what would be the poet laureate’s final album and also co-produces here.
He brings a similar touch to The Bravest Man In The Universe, namely focussing on the strength and inherent wisdom of Womack’s aged voice against a modern sonic palette of warm beats, light electronic strokes; as well as some classicist flourishes – particularly the raw guitar of the gospel-tinged “Deep River.”
The ghost of Scott-Heron even makes a cameo, as a typically wicked audio excerpt in the intro to the strident “Stupid.”
Full credit where its due to producer Damon Albarn also, not only for his audible influence (the underpinned synth bass of “Please Forgive My Heart” could belong only to him), but for how the Gorillaz-mastermind plucked Womack from semi-retirement to begin with (for 2010’s Plastic Beach album and subsequent tour).
Albarn proved that the soul legend was still capable of electrifying a track (“Stylo”) as much as he could still crack hearts (“Cloud Of Unknowing”) – both modes of which the Gorillaz mastermind elicits again here.
Even the duet with Lana Del Rey, “Dayglo Reflection”, a collaboration fraught with potential danger, is a tastefully touching turn. With Del Rey’s smoky croon played as Womack’s muse. It also contains a recorded quote which could be the album’s manifesto, “As a singer grows older, his conception grows a little deeper; because he lives life and he understands what he’s trying to say a little more”
From the slick trip-hop of the title track, to the jubilant chants of “Love Is Gonna Lift You Up” – and especially on the weathered “Whatever Happened To The Times”; Womack sings with every one of his 68 years, and the result is as powerful and touching as the singer himself must feel rewarded for producing his best album in over a decade.
- Al Newstead
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