Bobby Womack, The Bravest Man in the Universe: a 21st Century Soul Album

“I was ostracized from the music community when I was 21. I feel like after 45 years Damon has welcomed me back in” Bobby Womack

Living soul legend and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Bobby Womack recently released The Bravest Man in the Universe, his first album in almost 13 years. Produced by Damon Albarn and XL Recording’s Richard Russell, this just might be Womack’s best work in nearly 30 years.

The 68 year-old musician was definitely in good hands with the two talented young Brits. In 2010, Albarn had lifted Womack out of obscurity to duet on the last Gorillaz album and Russell had just finished working on the late soul poet Gil Scott-Heron’s final album I’m New Here. This sort of collaboration between young and old seem to be all the rage lately. I suppose we have Rick Rubin to thank for that when he produced Johnny Cash’s American Recordings in 1994. Since then, Jack White has reignited Loretta Lynn and Wanda Jackson’s careers, ?uestlove worked with Al Green and The Black Key’s Dan Auerbach produced the latest Dr. John masterpiece.

Recorded in three sessions between October and December 2011, The Bravest Man in the Universe is really a collaborative effort between Womack, Albarn and Russell, with all three sharing songwriting credits. Albarn would play the melody, Womack would write and sing to it and Russell would add the distinctive beats. Womack sees it as his first “real” album since 1994’s Resurrection. Russell said, “Bobby seemed to relish the opportunity to make something modern and original, and embraced and encouraged the use of unusual beats and sounds.”

While Albarn and Russell dominate the album’s 21st century sound with their ambient electronica beats and rhythm, it’s Womack’s vulnerable yet authoritative vocals that truly steal the spotlight. The man is singing from the heart and delivers the album’s thesis in the first few seconds: “The bravest man in the universe is the one who has forgiven first.”

It’s a treat to hear the soul legend’s aging voice juxtaposed with a more contemporary sound. But what’s really interesting are the few recognizable guest voices, including spoken word samples from Sam Cooke (Womack’s former “boss”) and Gil Scott-Heron as well as a shared duet with current It girl Lana Del Rey.

Standout tracks: The Bravest Man in the Universe; Whatever Happened to the Times; Dayglo Reflection (ft. Lana Del Rey).                                  

 A few fun musical facts about Bobby Womack:

  • He’s a former protégé of Sam    Cooke.
  • The Rolling Stones gave him his first royalty check with their cover of It’s All Over Now, a song he wrote at 16.
  • Womack settled on session work after being shunned from the R&B community for marrying Sam Cooke’s widow three months after his death.
  • Penned the ballad Trust Me for Janis Joplin on her album, Pearl and was one of the last people to see her before her death in 1970.
  • Contributed vocals & guitar work on Sly & The Family Stone’s There’s a Riot Goin’ On
  • Played guitar on Aretha Franklin’s Lady Soul album (along with Eric Clapton).
  • Wrote many songs for Wilson Pickett including I’m a Midnight Mover and I’m in Love.
  • Toured with The Faces on their last tour in 1974.
  • The riff from Rod Stewart’s Do Ya Think I’m Sexy was borrowed from his 1975 hit, If You Want My Love (Put Something Down On It).
  • Quentin Tarantino reprised Bobby’s 1973 hit Across 110th Street for the title theme to his movie Jackie Brown starring Bobby’s former girlfriend Pam Grier.
  • Ron Wood inducted him into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2009.
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