In conjunction with the release of seven Bobby Womack albums making their digital debut and the release of a newly discovered 1972 concert recording, the label-spanning The Best of Bobby Womack – The Soul Years provides a great history of the sounds of black music from the 1960s and ‘70s because he was an artist not bound by genres. The 22 tracks collected here find him successfully working in soul, R&B, funk, and gospel, whatever the mood required, and the results speak for themselves as he was a frequent visitor to the Billboard R&B charts with occasional crossover to the Pop charts.
It opens with “Across 110th Street,” a big sweeping theme song for the blaxploitation movie of the same name that ranks alongside the themes of Isaac Hayes and Curtis Mayfield for Shaft and Superfly respectively. A big orchestration of strings joins the band as Womack sings about the third child of five “doing what ever had to do to survive.”
The songs then alternate styles throughout the album. “Woman’s Gotta Have It,” his first #1 hit on the R&B charts from 1972, has a sweet smooth groove as he gives advice to man on how to “do the things that keep a smile on her face.” “I’m A Midnight Mover” follows, taking the listener back to the late ‘60s when Womack wrote and performed with Wilson Pickett and some great Memphis horns.
The album moves back to the ‘70s with to two top-ten R&B hits with “That’s The Way I Feel About Cha” and “You’re Welcome, Stop By.” The former is a tender romantic ballad while the latter raises the heat by adding a little funk to the mix, creating a wonderful one-two punch for lovers.
But we don’t stay for long as “Lookin’ for a Love” has a throwback sound to early ‘60s R&B groups, which is understandable as this is a remake of his single from 1962 when he was in a band called Valentinos under the tutelage of Sam Cooke. Another great example of an artist being influenced by another is “Communication.” This obvious nod to Womack’s tenure traveling with James Brown’s band features a fantastic arrangement and wailing vocals.
Womack does a great job with covers, making signatures songs of other artists his own. His versions of “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” “Fly Me To The Moon (In Other Words),” “California Dreamin’,” and “Fire and Rain” are great examples on how to interpret a work because they aren’t immediately recognizable. He is joined by Bill Withers on “It’s All Over Now,” a song Womack that The Rolling Stones made famous when they were getting their start.
If you aren't already, The Best of Bobby Womack will convert you into a disciple much like the audience/congregation heard during “The Preacher/More Than I Can Stand (Live).” The music contained within is good for you, body and soul, so do yourself a favor, and “Check It Out.”