Proves what Womack is still capable of
As honcho at XL Recordings, Richard Russell built an empire on impeccable taste. Then as producer of 2010’s ‘I’m New Here’ he effected a stunning 11th-hour resuscitation of grizzled jazz poet Gil Scott-Heron over new-fangled electronic whirrs. Now, he once again dusts off a heroic grizzler for Bobby Womack’s first original recordings since 1994. Again, the result is a classy collection destined to be played in apartments with minimalist furniture. And that’s before you even factor in the co-producing hand of Damon Albarn.
Womack, one of the very icons of American soul, has seen and done things us people wouldn’t believe. And ‘The Bravest Man In The Universe’ is no slouch compared to any of his other work. The only problem is that at times, it feels like all parties are a little intimidated by each other, stopping just short of going the whole way with the primal force that the best moments prove Womack is still capable of.
At its best, it is masterful – the sparse ‘Whatever Happened To The Times’ is a reflection of wisdom and gravity, but never extinguishes the childlike charisma of Womack’s incredible voice. The much-hyped Lana Del Rey duet, ‘Dayglo Reflection’, though, amounts to less than the sum of its parts and wafts away before you really know it’s there.
Only twice does the record ascend to the truly and historically stunning. And neither are ‘old man looking back’ yarns. ‘If There Wasn’t Something There’ sees Womack groaning an intimidating ultimatum over a driving beat to a lover who just can’t leave, while ‘Love Is Gonna Lift You Up’ is a gleeful sunshine ode to all that is lovely. Both shrug off gravitas and shine a light on Womack as an artist with a huge amount more to give.