Bobby Womack's life seems kind of like it was made for a comeback album. Kicked out of the house at 16 over he and his brothers' decision to play pop music instead of gospel, Womack and his brothers were mentored by Sam Cooke while the latter was performing with the Soul Stirrers. Womack and his brothers were signed four years later, when Bobby was just sixteen.
The Womacks, known as The Valentinos, had a few hits, notably "It's All Over Now," later covered by the Rolling Stones. In 1965 Bobby embarked on what would be his first in a series of self-sabotages: he married Cooke's widow, Barbara Campbell, just three months after Cooke's death. The move was seen as especially unsavory given that Cooke had had such an active hand in Womack's early career. Unable to make a career in the public eye, Womack continued to work as a session musician, playing on several of Aretha Franklin's albums and writing songs for the likes of Wilson Pickett, Janis Joplin, George Benson, and others.
After struggling with drug addiction for much of the '70s, Womack's career hit a snag in the '80s, but entered rehab and began recording again in the mid-'90s. However, by 2012, he was dealing with diabetes, and contracted pneumonia. It was revealed in March of this year that he was suffering from colon cancer, but in May, he underwent a successful surgery, and is currently cancer free.
Womack's most recent album, The Bravest Man in the Universe, was created with the input of Blur and Gorillaz mastermind Damon Albarn, and features cameos from Lana Del Rey and Gil-Scott Heron. But what's amazing is that none of it comes off as gimmickry. Womack could have easily recruited a mess of professional studio ninjas to create an album of comfortable throwback soul; and given his life this year, people would have eaten it up. But he chose instead to throw himself into a new setting, and his well-worn (but still powerful) voice sidles up nicely next to Albarn and XL Records producer Richard Russell's chopped-up beats and samples. It's a new setting for an old voice, and perhaps an unconventional one, but a beautiful one nonetheless. As Womack says "It's a step in another direction. I wanna grow."
Doors at Music Hall of Williamsburg (North 6th street, between Wythe and Kent) open at 8 p.m. Tuesday night, and Womack hits at 9 p.m.. Tickets are $35. Come out and see a legend in action.