Bobby Womack Makes His Return with 'Bravest Man'

AP Entertainment Writer
Bobby Womack has been frustrated.

He’s relaunching his career after what amounts to a two-decade, self-imposed exile and he can’t get his doctor to cooperate. There’s so much to do, Womack says in a gravelly voice, which has aged like the most expensive single-malt whiskey. Yet his doctor has ordered him to shut down for nearly two weeks _ an eternity for a restless man seeking a rare second act at age 68.

And Womack can’t disagree, especially when you take the long view.

A gospel and soul singer, a songwriter and a guitar player with few peers, Womack is largely a forgotten figure today _ but one who is getting a close re-examination. His new album, “The Bravest Man in the Universe,” was produced by Damon Albarn, and Womack has ambitious plans for a tour later this year _ if his body and doctor cooperate.

His return is a welcome development for those who recognize his deep contributions to modern music _ as Sam Cooke’s guitarist, the writer of the Rolling Stones’ first hit and someone who scored many of his own during his solo career. Some worried Womack might not have the same vitality that made him one of the most inspiring and imitated artists of his generation. And even Womack wondered sometimes. He admits to having seizures during his tour with Albarn’s Gorillaz several years ago and his health problems loomed large.

The “Unsung” episode that aired in January on TV One featuring Womack was among the most watched and commented upon in the series.

Womack hopes for a little drama in the next chapter of his career and calls “Bravest Man” “a fresh start.” It’s his first collection of original material in 18 years _ since he quit the life to save his life. He gave up music because he was addicted to drugs and alcohol. Drugs and music. Music and drugs. The two were so intrinsically entwined, he felt the only way to really quit one was to give up the other.

He released a few albums of others’ material during this hiatus, but it wasn’t until Albarn tapped him for his Gorillaz side project that Womack caught the fever again. The way he sees it, he’s carrying the torch for all those friends who fell victim to the lifestyle or were forgotten by time.

Richard Russell, Albarn’s co-producer on “Bravest Man,” thinks their work fits right into the spirit of Womack’s career. He calls it “organic and earthy.”

Womack entered the 2011 recording sessions for the album with an open mind and knew they’d be using programmed beats. But he admitted the recording style employed by Albarn, the Blur frontman, and Russell, the XL Recordings owner, took some getting used to.

The trio sat down together in the round, joined by Womack’s writing partner Harold Payne, and hammered out arrangements as they went. Womack worried they were moving too quickly, but says he loved the final product.




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