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Bobby Womack Facts of Life Review

Album. Released 1973.  

BBC Review

The Midnight Mover tells it as it is.

Daryl Easlea 2011

Bobby Womack, the Midnight Mover, is a fascinating, singular figure in the world of soul, equally courted by the rock community, an outsider. Listening to his work makes you question sometimes why you would ever want to listen to any other artist. Womack is a performer who asks a lot of questions. Demanding rapt attention from his audience, his righteous vocals are possibly the closest you get to earthy preaching.

Womack cut a convincing series of albums on Minit from 1967 onwards, but when the label was absorbed into United Artists in the early 70s he embarked on a run of releases that displayed his skill and maturity. Womack refused to follow a linear path – he would embrace rock, country and western and blues in his mix, and all he would top it all off with lengthy raps, almost stage direction-like at times. He tells you what he’s about to do and how he’s going to do it, then he does it and tells you about it. He struck the template of original and covers with 1971’s Communication, which he followed up with the mighty Understanding.

Facts of Life arguably isn’t his greatest album. It certainly doesn’t contain a huge amount of Womack originals (three out of ten). But his skills as an interpreter here are to the fore – his take on All Along the Watchtower is more Hendrix than songwriter Bob Dylan, The Look of Love avoids being mawkish, and his version of Natural Man is the only male version of the song that comes anywhere near Aretha Franklin’s original.

There is little filler in Womack’s world. Of his originals, the title-track is beautiful, meandering, sensual. He intones, "People always ask me why do you talk before you sing / I believe you should talk because I have something to say," as he explains the rigours of life on the road and the music business ("it’s all about money . . . bad scene"). Womack’s raps seem a great deal less staged than those of some of his peers.

Womack’s exposure has grown since his adoption by Damon Albarn into Gorillaz in 2010. To see him onstage at Glastonbury that year was a wonderful moment. In a perfect, parallel world, he would be headlining in his own right.

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