Bobby Womack - Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow, Mon 27 Jan 2014, part of Celtic Connections
The soul legend makes a comeback, and proves he's neither shy, or retiring
There are a few things that Bobby Womack can do, that you can’t. He can wear a head to toe red leather outfit and make it look good. He can sing things normal people would just say, without seeming ridiculous. (Eg, ‘Please can you turn up the lights/ I want to take my time to sing this song/ I’m going to sit down now’, etc). He can recover from crack addiction, pneumonia, near-fatal colon cancer, be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, and still power through a passionate 90-minute performance – and only leave when two aides eventually lead him stumbling, reluctantly, off stage, still screaming ‘yeah! yeah!’ into a mic.
The enforced apple juice pauses (he’s also diabetic) and neck-towelling from a very attentive member of his entourage are reminders of Womack’s physical limitations. Now 69, the soul singer-songwriter’s body isn’t cooperating as it once used to. But there’s nothing frail in his desire to give James Brown-style foot stamps, endless yelps, and dry onstage patter. ‘See if y’all remember this one! I sure don’t …’
When inviting one of his backing singers to the front for a solo (he’s joined at the Concert Hall with three singers, including his daughter GinaRe, a four-man horn section, two drummers, a percussionist, two guitarists and someone on keyboards) – he charmingly fluffs her up, with a joke at himself. ‘This woman’s got one of the baddest voices I’ve ever heard – in my good ear.’
He opens with 'Across 110th Street', the hit single from his 1972 soundtrack album of the same name, and one of his most famous, after being re-used in Quentin Tarantino’s 1997 blaxpoitation pastiche, Jackie Brown. He follows with more career highs – 1972’s 'Woman’s Gotta Have It', his much-covered lesson on keeping the women in your life sweet, which scored him a number one; 1982’s ‘If You Think You’re Lonely Now’, from which Mariah Carey borrowed lyrics on ‘We Belong Together’ (she mentions Womack in the same song); and 'I Wish He Didn’t Trust Me So Much', taken by many as his comment on his controversial marriage to his mentor Sam Cooke’s widow, Barbara.
If there’s a criticism, it’s that the set is perhaps too weighted on the earlier highs of Womack’s career, only featuring one song from his ‘comeback album’ – the title track from 2012’s The Bravest Man in the Universe. The album came about after prolonged coaxing from Damon Albarn (who Womack had never heard of), and produced by XL-label boss, Richard Russell, who also worked on Gil Scott-Heron’s final record, I’m New Here. Just as it had for Scott-Heron, it gave Womack a career-resurrecting shot in the arm, after a self-imposed hiatus from music, and proved his smooth, soul vocal was not only still relevant, but still crushingly good, especially when paired with Russell and Albarn’s sparse production.
‘It’s damn cold out there Glasgow!,’ he says in a coy mumble. ‘You need someone to keep your body warm tonight!’ Hearing Womack shout at his crowd, ‘can I get a witness?’, ‘shake your money maker!’ and ‘get your asses standing up’, is a reminder he still has the hypnotic crowd control of a slow jamming, breathless, groaning and bluesy gospel preacher. Perhaps not the healthiest man in the universe these days, he’s still one of the most entertaining.