The Right Stuff Records, 1981
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 03/01/2000
Comeback is a word that many artists don't like to hear - even if it accurately describes what is happening to their careers at the moment. One wonders how some stars ever survived before VH-1's "Behind The Music" series.
In the case of Bobby Womack, maybe the word "comeback" isn't the correct word when he released The Poet back in 1981. I mean, here was an artist who might not have had a hit since the latter half of 1976, but was someone who had been consistently cranking out albums. He hadn't changed; public tastes had with the rise of disco as flavor of the week. But when people finally turned their attention back to Womack, he and his music were there welcoming them back with open arms.
Of course, some things had changed. Womack was no longer on a major label; instead, The Poet was originally released on a small label, Beverly Glen Records. But maybe that was the career kick in the backside that Womack needed; he now had the chance to succeed or fail on his own terms and merit.
Looking back on this disc nearly 20 years since its initial release (and a good while since I received it to review - sorry, Cary!), Womack shows many reasons why he was so popular at the time. Yet there are times when it almost seemed like the message overstayed its welcome, and the music dragged on a tad too long. (Yeah, that's a funny thing to say about an album that is only about 45 minutes in length, I know.)
As much as I can't admit to being fully schooled in r&b ("quiet storm"?), Womack's hit off The Poet, "If You Think You're Lonely Now," does ring some bells, and pleasant ones at that. Womack's style of vocal delivery slides onto the instrumental track smoothly, providing the listener with the distinct feeling that they're listening to something special. There's almost a gospel-like atmosphere to the song at times - a feeling that is much stronger on the track "Where Do We Go From Here".
Despite all this praise, I don't think that either of these tracks are the highlight of The Poet. Instead, that honor goes to the track "Just My Imagination". Oh great, you're thinking, a Temptations cover. Not quite; Womack structures a whole new track that might even eclipse the song you originally thought this was. Everything falls into place on this song - the songwriting, the vocals, the musicianship. This is what r&b was meant to be.
If only the entire album were that strong. Tracks like "So Many Sides Of You" just don't seem to develop into the numbers that they could have been. Part of the problem lies in the weaker-than-expected choruses, part of it in a lack of true harmony vocals. Other tracks, like "Secrets" and "Games," not only fail to light the candle, but they also seem to drag on for far too long, "Games" in particular. Had maybe two to three minutes been chopped off this song, it would have been more bearable.
Granted, appreciating Womack in general is an acquired taste; I think I ended up listening to this disc some seven times before daring to pass any type of judgment. But even after one listen, you will undoubtedly find yourself drawn to certain parts of The Poet - as well as pushed away from other parts.
Womack is an artist whose influence is only now fully being recognized. On The Poet, there are ample signs of the structure he brought to r&b - but sometimes I wish he had left a little more behind on this one.
|Not to be too critical of the critic, I have to ask why have someone review a genre that he admits to his main exposure of it is "Quiet Storm", WHY WHY WHY???|