The Best Of Bobby Womack: The Soul Years

Bobby Womack

Capitol, 2008

http://bobbywomack.com

REVIEW BY: David Bowling

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 07/05/2008

Bobby Womack began his musical career in the early 1950s as a member of the Womack Brothers. Sam Cooke changed their name to the Valentinos, signed them to his SAR label, and transformed them from a gospel act into a to a rhythm and blues unit. Womack would also serve as Cooke’s guitarist and eventually even married his widow.

The Valentinos would release the Womack-penned song “It’s All Over Now” in June of 1964. This track would become a minor hit but would be quickly surpassed by the Rolling Stoves cover that reached the top of the charts; Womack, in turn, was extremely upset -- that is, until the royalty checks started arriving.

During the next several years Womack went on to write hundreds of songs for other artists, including seventeen for Wilson Pickett. He also found himself in demand as a session guitarist and played for the likes of Aretha Franklin (Aretha Now and Lady Soul), Joe Tex, and Elvis Presley (“Suspicious Minds”).

Womack began releasing his compositions under his own name, and for the last 40 years, he has been a consistent presence on the R&B charts. Bobby Womack an R&B singer with few pop leanings and so has only had a few crossover hits, which has kept him somewhat under the musical radar. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The Best Of Bobby Womack: The Soul Years is a 22-song chronicle that contains most of his R&B chart hits from the 1960s and 1970s, plus a few cover songs of the day thrown in for good measure.

“Across 110th Street” leads off the album and is an excellent introduction to what the music of Bobby Womack is all about. It features dual guitars set against a brass foundation, while Womack’s funky vocal runs counterpoint to the rhythms. Even today, this song creates a nice laid-back groove, yet the lyrics have bite as Womack sings with authority about life on the other side of 110th Street.

“I’m A Midnight Mover” was a big hit that Womack wrote for Wilson Pickett. Womack’s vocal is slightly fuller than Pickett’s, but he remains loyal to the basic guitar and bass foundation. He eventually weaves some brass into the mix that drives the song to its conclusion.

“Woman’s Gotta Have It” allows Womack to place the emphasis on his vocal as he strips the backing sound to the basics. Womack has a very clear voice when he wants to present it outside of a funky framework.

“That’s The Way I Feel About Cha” introduces the listener to the guitar prowess of Womack. The guitar on this track (and most of the others) features Womack, and he is one of the best in the business.

Womack’s biggest hit was “Lookin’ For Love,” which charted at number ten. This is a very rare pop sound for Womack, complete with background singers, booming drums, and subtle guitar in support.

“Communication” found a ‘70s Womack moving lyrically in a political direction with just bass and drums providing the foundation.

The cover songs are hit-and-miss as they take Womack outside his comfort zone: “I Left My Heart In San Francisco” is given an up-tempo treatment that sounds like a poor lounge act; “Fire and Rain” has a talking introduction and weak vocals; “California Dreamin’” does work as Womack gives a simple vocal with no harmonies, which takes the song in a different and ultimately interesting direction.

The Best Of Bobby Womack: The Soul Years contains a lot of material and you may need to filter the mostly excellent songs from the weaker ones. Ultimately, however, it is an excellent journey though’ 60s and ‘70s soul music by one of its underappreciated practitioners.

Rating: B+

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