A Vivascene Feature Review by Brian Miller

Vivascene rating 9.5

Soul singer-songwriter supreme Bobby Womack has released a new album in collaboration with Damon Albarn (Gorillaz) and producer extraordinaire Richard Russell. The album, entitled The Bravest Man In The Universe is akin to the miracle that producer Russell performed in his XL studios on the Gil Scott-Heron work I’m New Here a year or so back; in other words this is one terrific album, exploiting both Womack’s gruff vocals and all of the latest recording technology (beats, loops, samples etc). It’s a thrilling ride, made even more so by the soaring vocal presence of Lana Del Rey on the outstanding track “Dayglo Reflection”.

Richard Russell is probably the most talented producer of his generation. What he did with Gil Scott-Heron would have made the careers of lesser men. Russell had a few more tricks up his sleeve, though, as he is also the producer behind Adele’s 21 as well as the group Vampire Weekend. Then there’s the small matter of the Kinshasa One Two album he made with Damon Albarn in the Democratic Republic of Congo. So Russell is no slouch in the producing department, nor does he confine himself to one genre, as witnessed by the magnificent work on Adele’s multiple Grammy-winning record. So when he turns his hand to producing an album of new material by Bobby Womack, you know there’s going to be something amazing happening. And so it went.

Now Womack has been around the music scene for going on 60 years, starting out performing for his father Friendly Womack, and accompanied by his brothers. The young Womacks teamed up with Sam Cooke, who took them on, mentored them, and converted them (yes, the irony sublime) from gospel music to soul music. After Cooke’s untimely death, Womack made the mistake of marrying Cooke’s widow, which derailed his career for some time. He kept writing though, even scoring a hit when The Rolling Stones recorded his song “It’s All Over Now”. Rumour has it that Womack was mightily upset by the version, which pales with his own blistering attack on the tune, until, that is, Bobby caught a glimpse of his first royalty cheque. He’s been close friends with The Stones ever since. Womack also wrote for Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett ( “I’m in Love” and “I’m A Midnight Mover), as well as having a pop and jazz no. 1 when George Benson recorded “Breezin”, an instrumental Womack co-wrote with Gábor Szabó. Then in the 80’s he triumphed with his own vocal on “If You Think You’re Lonely Now”.

The new album is no 70s retro piece: far from it. While Womack’s strong, soulful voice is right out front, the electronic collaborations between Albarn (piano) and Russell (the MPC drum machine), are uniquely 21st century. This album couldn’t have been made before now. In fact, Womack has been quoted as saying he didn’t recognize his own voice on some parts of the record, though he absolutely loved what his collaborators have created. This is not to say they’ve imposed their electronica on Womack’s songs. It’s a living, breathing organic whole that signals great things for the music industry. This is bound to be one of the records of the year. Key tracks on the album are: “Dayglo Reflection”, “Please Forgive My Heart”, and the title track “The Bravest Man In The Universe”.

Worth the price of admission – Lana Del Ray’s contribution to “Dayglo Reflection”. Finally, she delivers on the hype surrounding her oft-raved, oft-disputed talent. The suspicion remains, though, that this album owes everything to Richard Russell. Can’t wait until his next project.

Watch: “Dayglo Reflection”

Watch: “Please Forgive My Heart”

Watch: “The Bravest Man In The Universe”