The Bravest Man In The Universe is Bobby Womack’s first album of original material in eighteen years. It was co-produced by Damon Albarn and XL Recordings’ Richard Russell and recorded in three main sessions between October and December 2011; two were in Damon’s Studio 13 in West London, and the other was in New York’s Manhattan Center, which is situated above the legendary Hammerstein Ballroom, with a few extra sessions in London at the XL Studio and Richard’s own home studio. All ten tracks are co-written by the three plus Bobby’s longtime songwriting partner Harold Payne, except for radically rearranged spirituals “Deep River” and “Jubilee (Don’t Let Nobody Turn You Around)”. There are striking vocal guest spots from Lana Del Rey on “Dayglo Refelection” and Malian singer Fatoumata Diawara on “Nothin’ Can Save You”.
Born Robert Dwayne Womack in 1944 in Cleveland, Ohio, Bobby and his four brothers were inspired by to form a vocal group, The Womack Brothers, by their gospel-singing father Friendly Womack. The boys made their first record when Bobby was just ten, and were eventually discovered by the legendary Sam Cooke, who changed their name to The Valentinos, signed them to his own SAR label, and also employed Bobby as his onstage guitarist. Just three months after his mentor was shot dead in December 1964, Bobby shocked the soul music establishment by marrying Cooke’s widow Barbara Campbell, a marriage that would last until 1970.
Meanwhile, The Rolling Stones had their first UK No.1 hit with a cover of Bobby’s “Its All Over Now” in 1964, beginning a working friendship between Womack and The Stones that would continue through tours, studio work with latter-day Stone Ronnie Wood, and a guest appearance as backing vocalist on The Stones’ 1986 cover of Bob & Earl’s “Harlem Shuffle”. But success as an artist in his own right was still some way off for Bobby in the mid-‘60s. He became an in-demand guitarist, playing on three of the greatest albums of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s in Aretha Franklin’s Lady Soul, Janis Joplin’s Pearl and There’s A Riot Goin’ On by Sly And The Family Stone. The latter, apart from being the deepest funk record ever made, was also an album made by a band on dark drugs. Sly Stone never entirely recovered from the netherworld it sonically depicted. But Bobby, despite being addicted to coke and alcohol, went on to his greatest successes as a solo artist, scoring big US R&B hits with ‘70s albums Communication, Understanding, Across 110th Street and Facts Of Life, and hit singles “Harry Hippie” and “Lookin’ For A Love”, while dealing with the violent demise of brother Harry, who was stabbed to death in 1974.
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