BOBBY WOMACK: ‘Roads Of Life’ (Label: Expansion)

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BOBBY WOMACK: 'Roads Of Life'

After a fertile five-year stint at United Artists in the first half of the ’70s (which yielded classic albums like ‘Facts Of Life,’ and the 1974 US R&B chart topping 45, ‘Lookin’ For A Love’) Bobby Womack decamped to Columbia where he recorded a couple of moderately successful albums (‘Home Is Where The Heart Is’ and ‘Pieces’). The gravel-voiced soul troubadour nicknamed ‘The Preacher’ then moved on to Clive Davis’s fledgling Arista set-up. However, Womack’s tenure at Arista was all too brief and yielded only a solitary album, 1979’s ‘Roads Of Life,’ which has just been reissued for the first time. Though often dismissed by aficionados of Womack’s earlier work as being too disco-tinged, ‘Roads Of Life,’ in my opinion, represents something of an overlooked masterpiece in the Womack canon. It’s not without significance that the 8-song set is co-produced by L.A.-based keyboard player, Patrick Moten, who would go on to helm Womack’s perceived magnum opus, ‘The Poet,’ four years later for the indie label, Beverley Glen. Womack’s voice here is, as you’d expect, gritty and magnificently soulful, contrasting with Moten’s super-slick, string and horn charts. The title track is a great opener, though it’s eclipsed in terms of quality by ‘How Could You Break My Heart,’ an infectious mid-tempo groover, which due to demand, was granted a belated UK 12-inch release in 1987. ‘The Roots In Me,’ is another fine number, featuring an opening spoken monologue by Womack, lashings of churchy organ and silky background vocals from Leon Ware (Womack’s co-writer) and Melissa Manchester. The tempo rises several notches for ‘What Are You Doin’,’ a frenetic disco-inflected number, though with its messy lead vocal on the verse section, it proves to be the album’s weakest cut. Much better is the mid-paced ‘Give It Up,’ and the closing ballad, ‘I Honestly Love You.’ Soul fans and Womack devotees should snap up this CD immediately, of course, though even casual browsers who only buy an occasional soul record will discover much to savour here.
(CW) 4/5