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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Bobby Womack: B. W. Goes C & W


1) Don't Make This The Last Date For You And Me; 2) Behind Closed Doors; 3) Bouquet Of Roses; 4) Tired Of Living In The Country; 5) Tarnished Rings; 6) Big Bayou; 7) Song Of The Mockingbird; 8) I'd Be Ahead If I Could Quit While I'm Behind; 9) You; 10) I Take It On Home.

The album that singlehandedly brought Bobby's career to a standstill. At the height of the disco era, for an R&B artist to come up with an album that consisted exclusively of covers of country songs — well, you gotta give the man some respect. After all those years and years of enduring compromises between the will to experiment and commercial expectations (even saving up space on his own records to explain the situation), Bobby suddenly comes up with this mighty torpedo, blowing his ship to bits: he almost shoved the record down the throats of United Artists executi­ves, but after it predictably bombed, they had no choice but to let him go, and, from a business point of view, that was probably the only reasonable solution.

What is really depressing about the situation is that the circumstances surrounding this record are far more curious and amusing than the record itself (for instance, when first asked to come up with a suitable title, Bobby suggested Step Aside Charley Pride, Give Another Nigger A Try). The actual songs recorded for the album, ten of them, all covers of old country standards by Charlie Rich, Eddy Arnold, Jimmy Newman, etc., might appeal to really big fans of the genre, but it's not as if Bobby were doing anything surprising with them. The material does get a little funkified and decorated with the appropriate synthesizers and wah-wah guitars, typical of the mid-1970s, but other than that, I am not even sure of what to say.

Ironically, the only song that Sam Cooke ever wrote about the country was ʽTired Of Living In The Countryʼ ("gonna get me a fine apartment, where the water runs hot and cold"), and, of course, Bobby had to do that one as well, addicted as he was to having at least one Sam cover per album (or, at least, per every couple of albums). It generates a little more excitement than every­thing else, even ʽTarnished Ringsʼ where Bobby drags out his own father, Friendly Womack, to sing a family duet (in authentic country-western fashion, I guess).

It isn't as if Bobby couldn't have done anything with the songs — the man who could turn ʽNo­body Knows Youʼ into a red-hot funk workout, and ʽSomething You've Gotʼ into ska comedy, could probably come up with some hilarious transformations for regular country stuff as well. But it seems as if he thought that the very gesture was enough — that, perhaps, the very fact of em­barking on this enterprise could turn him into the Ray Charles of 1976. And in thinking that, he forgot to introduce any spice into the arrangements: even the guitars are bland and mechanic throughout the sessions. The singing tries to be passionate, but Bobby's singing is always passio­nate: like with so many first-rate R&B / soul singers, there is abso­lu­tely no telling when he is exactly «getting into it» and when he is just being professional.

Even though the album only runs for less than half an hour, it is still less than half an hour of excruciating boredom, unless you worship the power of the waltz tempo, the slide guitar, and the sentimental strings in all their doings. A ridiculous decision if there ever was one (and, if I read Bobby's own memories of that correctly, drugs had some say at least in the matter). Thumbs up for the audacity, perhaps, but the music is clearly thumbs down worthy, even if it is a very dif­ferent thumbs-down in nature from all the usual thumbs down circa 1976-77.

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