I'd Love to Turn You On to Bobby Womack
When talking about the greats of soul, there's a name that just doesn't come up enough; after all, Bobby Womack's gritty confessional style—influenced by his mentor Sam Cooke—made for some of the best black music of the '70s. Working around the greats (at Chips Moman's American Sound Studios and the legendary Muscle Shoals) made Womack perhaps the most well-rounded soul man of all time, able to holler the house down like Wilson, rhapsodize about love like Marvin, and preach to his people like Curtis.
Following a successful run on Minit Records and his scorching backup guitar work on Sly's There's a Riot Goin' On, Womack dropped a string of essential Southern-soul LPs on United Artists. Some of Womack's best and most characteristic work was released during this period, classics like 1971's Communication and 1972's Understanding. But the work truest to Womack's versatile heart was his underappreciated 1973 collection, Facts of Life.
Facts of Life wins simply because of the inclusion of two songs: his electrifying reimagining of "Nobody Wants You When You're Down and Out," and the title track—for my money the perfect Womack primer. On the latter, Bobby's seemingly rambled three-minute monologue (over a beautifully languid acoustic-guitar/strings/organ arrangement) bemoans the touchy nature of love on the road; it's hard to decide if he's truly as compassionate as he paints, or whether it's pure G-A-M-E. When Bobby suddenly bursts into glorious song midsentence, you're instantly reminded—the essence of game is sincerity, even when you're feeding a line.
"Nobody Wants You," reportedly Bobby's favorite song he's recorded, is a cover of a now 80-year-old blues song by black vaudevillian Jimmy Cox, done by everyone from Bessie Smith to Rod Stewart, but Womack's searingly soulful version is absolutely definitive. Not only does the narrator's teeter-totter lifestyle describe Womack's own tumultuous career, his weary rasp truly sounds like he's dictating his own memoir.
Though Facts—like many of his LPs—contains numerous covers (such as his gorgeous take on his mentor's "That's Heaven to Me"), there's an authenticity in Bobby's lived-in soul that always reads as autobiographical—as a kind of real few rappers (and soul singers) could hope to match. He said it best himself on the title track's rap: "It's all about money behind the scenes... but with me, it's all about feelin'." Amen.