Bobby Womack, The Forum, London
Monday 26 November 2012
"I want to dedicate this song to all the lovers here tonight," explains the 68-year-old singer. This is the sort of ripe line that was perfectly acceptable in the early 1980s.
Less so now. However, if anyone can get away with it, it's soul music's greatest survivor, Bobby Womack, a protégé of Sam Cooke (he ended up marrying Cooke's widow), who is perfectly entitled to cover "A Change Is Gonna Come" tonight, and a man who has survived colon cancer, his child's suicide and drug addiction.
The first half of this old-school soul experience is much more subdued than the saxophone-heavy (it's doubtful the Forum has witnessed so much sax since the mid-1980s), crowd-pleasing ballads later on. The Cleveland soulman sits on a stool dazzling in his bright red suit and cap, strumming in his distinctive way - left hand, upside down - and performs seven songs from his latest, accomplished album, The Bravest Man in the Universe. The record is a stripped-down, low-key affair that reflects on his mortality, his errors, on regret, on forgiveness, the planet, the cosmos, the dawn falling, the end.
His voice is still a thing of wonder, a preacher-style growl, which occasionally soars on "Deep River", "The Bravest Man in the Universe" and standout track "Please Forgive Me". But the new songs are a tad too low-key and noodly live, and they miss the presence of a drummer. However, it's enlivened by a clearly chuffed Damon Albarn (he effectively resurrected Womack's career in 2010 on Gorilla's Plastic Beach), who is on keyboards. The Blur man even pumps the air at one point, somewhat needlessly.
The second half is immediately more vigorous and crowd pleasing, kicking off with "Across 110th Street", which Quentin Tarantino used to such terrific effect on Jackie Brown. The audience join with the "Sha-dah-dah-dah-sha-nah-nah-nahs" on "Harry Hippie" and "That's the Way I Feel about Cha" is a delight.
Some songs linger a little too long, "If You Think You're Lonely Now" feels like an eternity, and some of the material feels dated, naff even, such as "I Wish You Didn't Trust Me So Much" on which a tortured Bobby is pained by the fact he fancies his pal's wife.
In-between songs Womack gets reflective, informing us about how often thinks about his old contemporaries, Marvin Gaye, Sam Cooke and James Brown. "In the old school soul, nobody sounded alike," he maintains. He's right, no one quite sounds like this gravelly voiced force of nature, the last great soul man left (sort of) standing.
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