BEST OF 2012: 23. Bobby Womack – The Bravest Man In The Universe

After contributing his ferocious roar to several tracks on the 2009 Gorillaz outing, ‘Plastic Beach’, and touring it with the band, Womack was on Damon Albarn‘s wandering musical mind when he next had a moment to draw up some new plans. Although neither Rocket Juice & The Moon nor ‘Dr Dee’ make this year’s list, anything with the Blur man’s involvement is likely to get a favourable response in this household and so it proves with this understated and yet hugely powerful record. ‘Please Forgive My Heart’ is an early indicator of just want can be achieved by this unlikely partnership, based around a loop of nervous beats and vocal tics and it was no surprise that it appeared as the first single.

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There’s much to commend on this rather short record. It’s the only release of 2012 with the name Lana Del Rey on it that I’m actually fond of for a start, with her almost emotionless role in ‘Dayglo Reflection’ a pointed and effective contrast to Womack’s captivating presence. ‘If There Wasn’t Something There’ possesses a gorgeous r’n’b swing at its heart, with one of the more tender vocal performances on the whole album.

The electronic gospel majesty of ‘Love Is Gonna Lift You Up’ deserves a place on most people’s end of year compilations. Its infectious simplicity is the key: gentle trumpet, delicately manhandled drum pads and a sense of a song taking flight. And then the piano kicks in. It’s a neat touch, and a typical manoeuvre from Albarn. That deftness of touch is all over this record and we should remain grateful that his insatiable taste for music making remains undimmed. Twelve years on from a Christmas album that highlighted a paucity of ambition and an acceptance of the end of a life in the limelight, Womack emerged invigorated and restored to the vitality of old. We didn’t know we missed him but, as the ‘Blind Boys of Alabama go electro’ closer ‘Jubilee‘ comes to an end, it feels good to have him around.

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