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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Bobby Womack: Fly Me To The Moon


1) Fly Me To The Moon; 2) Baby! You Oughta Think It Over; 3) I'm A Midnight Mover; 4) What Is This?; 5) Some­body Special; 6) Take Me; 7) Moonlight In Vermont; 8) Love, The Time Is Now; 9) I'm In Love; 10) California Dreamin'; 11) No Money In My Pocket; 12) Lillie Mae.

Although his first solo LP did not come out until 1968, by which time the world of popular music had changed beyond recognition, the name «Bobby Womack» must have already been well fa­miliar to every­one closely following both the black and the white R&B market — on the former, Bobby was a member of The Valentinos, a vocal group under the protection of Sam Cooke, and, upon Sam's passing, a resident songwriter for the likes of Wilson Pickett; on the latter, he was known as the author of ʽIt's All Over Nowʼ, which the Rolling Stones went on to transform from a fun variation on Chuck Berry's ʽMemphis Tennesseeʼ into something sharper and barkier, but Bobby's original vocal performance is still well worth checking out.

Anyway, for a variety of technical reasons Bobby's first proper recording contract was not signed until 1968, when he put himself under the wing of Minit Records and went to Memphis to work with Chips Moman, the guy who would, just one year later, help record the Elvis comeback al­bum (From Elvis In Memphis) and other stuff. The band assembled for the sessions was not particularly notorious, but Womack and Moman somehow managed to rev them up, so much so that people are sometimes surprised to find out that this was not, in fact, a «genuine Stax produc­tion». It wasn't, but it was quality production, fully adequate for a worthy soul/R&B album.

In fact, there is nothing here that would make the album any less of a «knockout» than any given Wilson Pickett album — the only difference being that Pickett had the Atlantic / Muscle Shoals «brands» on his side, while the guy who actually wrote the songs for Pickett had to settle with a lesser proposal. Yet when it comes, for instance, to deciding on the better singer, it is very much a matter of taste — Pickett has slightly more range and power, perhaps, but Bobby has a grittier rasp, and is sometimes able to pack more human drama into a short two-and-a-half minute explo­sion than his more famous predecessor.

Case in point: the title track, a 14-year old pop song that Bobby turns from a basic sentimental love declaration into a vocal tempest — as if all the "let me see what spring is like", "hold my hand, baby, kiss me", and "please be true" were not merely rhetoric questions and admonitions, but an honestly desperate outburst of pleading. Peggy Lee (and Brenda Lee, for that matter) sang that song with sexy security; Bobby gives it so much insecurity that one almost forgets about the sexiness in the first place. And it works so well that he goes on to apply the same approach to such a well-established standard as ʽMoonlight In Vermontʼ — given an entirely new face, with sped-up tempos, muscular brass overdubs, and a vocal delivery that eschews subtlety, nuance, nostalgia, and melancholy and goes for burning soul ecstasy all the way.

On the other end of the spectrum, the songs Bobby originally wrote for Pickett (ʽI'm In Loveʼ, ʽI'm A Midnight Moverʼ) are not one inch inferior to Pickett's own versions, but those who alrea­dy know the Pickett versions will probably be more interested in such minor gems as ʽWhat Is This?ʼ, a soul-funk hybrid that stands with one foot firmly in the Sixties and the other one alrea­dy in the next decade, presaging its penchant for moodily orchestrated funk and disco, or ʽLilly Maeʼ, with a concentrated bass / rhythm guitar / lead guitar / organ / brass attack that rocks as tough as any feedback-free song could rock in 1968. A little less successful, in my opinion, is Womack's reworking of ʽCalifornia Dreamin'ʼ, as it often happens with R&B covers of perfectly constructed pop hits whose magic was primarily due to vocal harmonies — but if you manage to put the idea of comparison out of your mind, Bobby's take is just another splash-o'-soul, fully credible and enjoyable, like everything else on here.

The album did not sell much, yielded no huge hits, and Bobby was still a long way from his crea­tive peak of the early 1970s, but sticking in, out, and around of the music business for ten years certainly helped — few R&B/soul debut albums of the decade sounded that self-assured, profes­sional and with the artist in full control of the vibe, and this means a certified thumbs up even if, from a purely technical viewpoint, the «creative-innovative» component was nothing to write home about. Nothing wrong with the «charismatic» component, though.

Check "Fly Me To The Moon" (CD) on Amazon


  1. Replies
    1. I didn't even realize he had a career that stretched all the way back to the late 1960s.

      I'd do him in a different age, but too much raw Michigan testosterone for me these days, and I have to watch my health.

    2. He led a band called the Bob Seger System that had a minor hit in '69 with "Ramblin' Gamblin' Man." Here's a clip:

      He formed the Silver Bullet Band in '72 and had his breakthru in '75 with the Live Bullet album. But you probably already knew that. And as far as Michigan is concerned, I have less problem with the excessive testosterone as I do in the lack of mental acuity. For all of the great music that originates there, Detroit is the Winner for Dumbest City in America.