Damon Albarn enlisted Bobby Womack to sing on Gorillaz's 2010 album Plastic Beach, pushing the great soul singer back into action after a prolonged period of silence. Remarkably, the unlikely pair struck up a friendship, a partnership that led to 2012's The Bravest Man in the Universe, Womack's first album in 13 years. Signing with Richard Russell ...
Damon Albarn enlisted Bobby Womack to sing on Gorillaz's 2010 album Plastic Beach, pushing the great soul singer back into action after a prolonged period of silence. Remarkably, the unlikely pair struck up a friendship, a partnership that led to 2012's The Bravest Man in the Universe, Womack's first album in 13 years. Signing with Richard Russell's XL Records, Womack collaborated with his longtime cohort Harold Payne, Albarn, and Russell on this ghostly, skeletal soul collection, each man bringing his own signatures to the table. Russell's beats intertwine with Albarn's spectral chords, each evoking distinct memories of his past work, but even if there are clear antecedents in Russell's production of Gil Scott-Heron or the futuristic funk oeuvre of Gorillaz, these two do not bend Womack to fit their needs: they free him to make a startlingly modern Bobby Womack album, one that harks back to such previous masterworks as Understanding and The Poet, albums that fully embodied both the singer and his times. And so it is with The Bravest Man in the Universe, an album that sounds like 2012 as much as it sounds like Womack: the rhythms belong to the modern world, the slow, shimmering grooves undeniably Womack's, as he's been specializing in this sound since the turn of the '70s. Initially, the most bracing elements of The Bravest Man in the Universe are those electronic flourishes from Russell and Albarn and, most of all, the power of Womack's singing. He's showing signs of age -- his voice is etched and weathered -- but he sounds undiminished, both as a vocalist and as a man. This is not a quiet, mournful album about the dying of the light; this is about living in the moment, embracing age and modernity with equal enthusiasm. The past is present on The Bravest Man in the Universe -- nowhere more so than on "Dayglo Reflection," where a song by Womack mentor Sam Cooke is interpolated and chanteuse of the year Lana Del Rey is deployed as effectively ethereal counterpart, but Bobby covers the traditional "Deep River" and revives "Whatever Happened to the Times," a song he co-wrote with his old running partner Jim Ford -- although Womack is never beholden to time gone by; the old days are part of him, informing how he's facing the present, and there's nothing remotely approaching nostalgia here. For as haunting as parts of the album are, there is no fetishization of death on the parts of Albarn and Russell; even with a tinge of melancholy coloring the fringes of the album, this is an album that affirms the power of life, in all of its mess and glory. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi