BOBBY WOMACK: FACTS OF LIFE (1973)
1) Nobody Wants You When You're Down And Out; 2) I'm Through Trying To Prove My Love To You; 3) If You Can't Give Her Love Give Her Up; 4) That's Heaven To Me; 5) Holdin' On To My Baby's Love / Nobody; 6) Facts Of Life / He'll Be There When The Sun Goes Down; 7) Can't Stop A Man In Love; 8) The Look Of Love; 9) Natural Man; 10) All Along The Watchtower.
Back from soundtrack territory to regular LP turf again, Bobby tosses off another fine batch of tunes — nothing particularly spectacular, just some more of that solid, believable, classy-sounding soul stuff that seemed to come so easily to him in the early 1970s. By now, it was obvious that he would not be remembered as a major visionary or innovator of Stevie Wonder's caliber, but his interest in «minor» experiments and production twists still kept him miles ahead of many, if not most, competitors in the same genre.
For instance, how many people would be able to come up with the idea of redoing the old Jimmy Cox standard ʽNobody Wants You When You're Down And Outʼ as a funk-pop number, with a nasty bassline and proto-disco strings? Nothing whatsoever, except for the lyrics, is left over from the original in the process, but hey, good idea — the song is about internal turmoil and pissed-off disillusionment, and why not strengthen these feelings with a bit of a funky tempest? Perhaps the mix is not clever enough to let us fully appreciate Bobby's electric guitar parts (too eclipsed by the overriding brass), but fairly strong all the same.
Another example — who would dare take ʽ(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Womanʼ, so closely associated with Carole King and Aretha, and turn it into ʽNatural Manʼ? Well, apparently a little-known R&B singer called Fred Hughes got the start on Bobby five years earlier, but, from what limited amount of his songs I have heard, Fred sported a bit of a «womanly» image, following in the shoes of Clyde McPhatter and Smokey Robinson, whereas Womack was totally «virile», and this kind of gender turnaround might have been seen as risqué by some of his fans. Yet his vocal parts are totally credible, as he'd already cut his teeth on reinterpreting stuff like ʽClose To Youʼ — and, for that matter, they also inspired Rod Stewart to repeat the venture on his own cover, recorded for the Smiler sessions a year later. (Not sure of whether this should be used as a positive argument — Smiler wasn't that hot a record, but at least he still had Ronnie Wood by his side at the time, and the decline process was not yet irreversible).
More questionable is Bobby's decision to put his own stamp on ʽAll Along The Watchtowerʼ, where he takes the Hendrix version for default and dares to offer his own guitar playing, heavily wah-wahed and double-tracked, for comparison. The final results are good, but there is a reason, after all, why Jimi is revered as a visionary guitar player and Bobby is not — Jimi's fire comes out of ingeniously tuned firethrowers, while Bobby's fire is satisfied with steady crackling in the hearth: the song has no dynamics, and is in danger of becoming boring already after the first minute, especially if it is hard for you to erase the Jimi comparison from your head.
Concerning originals, there are relatively few here: ʽHe'll Be There When The Sun Goes Downʼ, a rhythmic, lush-string-drenched ballad of the Al Green variety, is probably the best of the lot, just because the string groove seems unusually complex and emotional, and, most importantly, it falls well in line with the song's lyrical vibe. It actually begins as a long spoken piece (title track), where Bobby, a little tongue-tied and confused, explains that his contract does not allow him to keep a steady relationship — so "don't get hung up on me, cause tomorrow I might be gone on down the road". The strings help carry on this subtle mix of romance and loneliness, even if the message itself is sorta questionable, but then, as long as he ain't justifying date rapes or anything, the man has a right to defend his lifestyle of one-night stands, and the music here is an excellent soundtrack for a one-night stand if you're sick and tired of family values or anything.
Most of the other songs, be they originals or covers, do not submit themselves to comments that easily — I could rave on about how wonderfully deep and tender I find ʽThat's Heaven To Meʼ, but it's a rather faithful Sam Cooke cover, and should rather be discussed in a Sam Cooke context. In any case, it all sounds good; my only problem with Facts Of Life is that it goes a bit too far in the «soft» direction, with only the first and last track rocking out with decisiveness — and all the ballads and melodic upbeat R&B numbers are starting to fall together after a while. But it's not as if this problem did not exist before, be it with Bobby or a million other serious, hard-working artists, and it ain't no reason to deprive the album of another thumbs up — if only because, given the musical climate of the time, the age of the artist, the original talent, and the good sense of taste, it would be hard to imagine how Facts Of Life could be anything but not a «solid» album, at least. Maybe if he'd been impressed by Barry White's early singles...
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