Back To My Roots

Bobby Womack

The Right Stuff Records, 1999

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


You could call Back To My Roots, the latest album from soul legend Bobby Womack, an album of unfulfilled dreams. Womack, who was originally a gospel singer - and who tried to reconcile the worlds of secular music with his spirituality, dreamed of handing his father the finished product that would become this album. (Womack's father, as as he tells in the intro to "Rug," was disappointed that Womack chose a career outside of gospel music.) Unfortunately, Womack's father died while this album was being made.

If this was not enough heartbreak for Womack, J.W. Alexander, a former business partner of the late Sam Cooke who Womack brought into this project, died not long after the album's completion. But instead of this being a melancholic look at life through worship of song, Back To My Roots is a celebration of life and beliefs that mixes enough soul with the old style gospel music that Womack was brought up with.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Now, a bit of a warning here: I'm probably the last person on staff who should be reviewing gospel music. I've never been a big fan of religious music; while I have my own beliefs in God, I don't like music that hits you over the head with a spiritual message. (No offense to Mike Ehret, our resident contemporary Christian music expert.) But, sometimes I like to take chances and expand my horizons by listening to discs that I normally wouldn't give a chance to. So, into the player this one went.

What will strike you about Back To My Roots at first is that Womack knows how to balance the spiritual side of his music with the secular; there are a few songs on this disc that don't necesarrily talk about religion, but have enough of an uplifting theme to get their message across subtly. These songs also seem to have the strongest roots in Womack's soul music past; "Motherless Child" and a cover of Simon & Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water" characterize these moments the best. Womack and crew do an admirable job on the latter, but I admit I'll always prefer the original version.

If you've not been exposed to gospel music a lot, Back To My Roots might take some time to get used to - and through. You don't need to be frightened off by songs with titles like "Nearer My God To Thee," "What A Friend We Have In Jesus" and "Jesus Be A Fence". The truth be told, Womack's reaching back to the "old school" of gospel reveals a form of the genre that was considerably less preachy than a lot of modern-day religious music. (Having listened to a few discs of this ilk over the past three years, I speak from first-hand knowledge.) These songs highlight both the devotion to and the support found in God - all presented in a way that even someone who was from a different religious background could find pleasure in, even if they didn't necessarily agree with the beliefs.

And while some portions of the disc drag a bit (I thought "Oh Happy Day," while closest to a gospel feel, dragged on a bit too long), Back To My Roots is a listener-friendly introduction to gospel music that isn't too preachy, and isn't too stuck in modern music. It gets a little tiring at the end; by the time I reached "It Is Well" and "Open Our Eyes," I was ready for a break. But Womack does, in the end, succeed in tying his soul roots with the music of his youth.

Rating: B

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 1999 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of The Right Stuff Records, and is used for informational purposes only.