Monday 23 October 2017

Womack's bravest album in two decades

John Meagher

John Meagher

Bobby womack

The Bravest Man in the Universe

(XL Recordings)

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Soul veteran Bobby Womack -- a protégé of the peerless Sam Cooke -- has been doing his thing for the best part of half a century. Yet, like contemporary, the late Gil Scott Heron, Womack's stock had fallen until he received an unexpected leg-up in the twilight of his career.

In Womack's case, rehabilitation came in 2010 in the form of a bonkers but brilliant appearance on the last Gorillaz album.

Damon Albarn has continued the relationship, with help from Richard Russell (head of one of the UK's best labels, XL -- the imprint responsible for Scott Heron's final solo album), Womack has been coaxed into delivering one of the stand-out records of his career.

It's his first album of original material in almost two decades.

The Bravest Man takes the 68-year-old American's classic strain of soul from the 1960s and 1970s and gives it a thoroughly contemporary makeover. The opening track is typical of the daring approach -- Womack's world-worn voice is offset by disembodied, Auto-Tuned vocals that vie for attention over a backdrop of glitchy beats, rumbling basslines and synthesised strings.

In places, Womack's singing feels slightly lost without the accompaniment of a big band, but the disjointed, sometimes fragmentary music, retains an indelible pulling power.

There are also some inspired guest appearances, not least the gifted Malian singer Fatoumata Diawara and the ever-polarising Lana Del Rey, but nothing overshadows Womack's sage, often remorseful words and that precious, bruised voice of his.

KEY TRACKS Please Forgive My Heart; Dayglo Reflection

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