Bobby Womack – 1973 – Facts of Life
Bobby Womack recorded something of a concept album with ‘Facts of Life’ in 1973. Both in lyrical content as in sound (save maybe for the all-out rock closer “All Along the Watchtower”), there’s a sense of longing and heartbreak here draped in warm, carressing soul grooves that are embellished with the tiniest amount of orchestration, creating a laid-back, relaxing, warm bath of melodic hooks, funky grooves and soulful philosophies on the wiles of love.
Bobby totally transforms his mentor Sam Cooke’s “Nobody Wants You When You’re Down and Out” into a dark, world-weary mid-tempo soul outing, conjuring up the “Across 110th. Street” vibe with its shimmering strings and pulsating beat.
A1 Nobody Wants You When You’re Down and Out 2:55
A2 I’m Through Trying to Prove My Love to You 4:00
A3 If You Can’t Give Her Love Give Her Up 2:41
A4 That’s Heaven to Me 2:47
a. Holdin’ on to My Baby’s Love 2:23
b. Nobody 0:45
a. Fact of Life 3:40
b. He’ll Be There When the Sun Goes Down 2:45
B2 Can’t Stop a Man in Love 2:20
B3 The Look of Love 3:30
B4 Natural Man 2:43
B5 All Along the Watchtower 3:20
Intensely melancholic and beautifully arranged, “I’m Through Trying to Prove My Love to You” stands as one of Womack’s finest originals. His plaintive, heartache ridden lyrics are set to a sad, but bittersweet, down-tempo, melodic groove. The strings on the bridge, accompanying Bobby going for one his trademark vocal crescendoes, truly evoke an eerie, tenable sense of loss here.
More uptempo is Womack’s message to his brothers with “If You Can’t Give Her Love, Give Her Up“. Popularized by Mary Wells, Bobby makes it totally his own, turning it into this sweetly stuttering upbeat shuffle, injected with furious blasts of brass and a purring Hammond organ.
There’s more melancholy when Womack takes on another Sam Cooke original: “That’s Heaven to Me” is just a gorgeous, well-arranged mid-tempo ballad featuring the same haunting backing vocals (I’m sure Bobby recorded some of his own here, and all over the LP, for that matter) and modest use of strings. It’s followed by another romping, gospelfide soul nugget with “Holding On to My Baby’s Love“, further emploring people to look at the bright side of life. Closing Side A is a short, but awesome reprise of “Nobody Wants You“.
Kicking off Side B is the medley “Facts of Life/He’ll Be There When the Sun Goes Down“. Typical of Bobby, the first part of the medley consists of a long, intimate, well articulated monologue. Talking about life on the road and getting lonesome, Womack raps about groupies and hangers-on, urging them to keep their home fires burning. For he’s a wanderer, a musician… and hubby will be there when the sun goes down. Then the second part of the medley sets in, bringing another superbly arranged, warm and at times jazzy ballad.
“Can’t Stop a Man In Love“, dug up from the Atlantic archives where a master by Wilson Pickett was left to dwindle, picks up the pace one more time, riding that bouncing, shufflin’ groove that makes it sound like the third installment of a trilogy on how to treat the ladies – the other two being “If You Can’t Give Her Love” and “Holding On to My Baby’s Love“.
One last brilliant, fragile piece of soul-infused melancholia appears in the guise of a unique, brooding take on “The Look of Love“. The horns here sound almost ghost-like, especially on the fade-out. Again subdued in its orchestration, and highlighted by another gutwrenching vocal, Bobby’s take on this Burt Bacharach standard – along with the epic version of Isaac Hayes – make this the definitive reading of the treasured pop chestnut.
Womack ends the album on that strange, addictively schizophrenic note that’s the basis of this record, going for one more optimistic, uplifting, finely orchestrated ballad with “Natural Man” after closing procedures with a hard rocking, ominous take on Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower“.
‘Facts of Life’ is a wonderful soul album. It’s the perfect soundtrack for the romanticists, the dreamers and the late night longers that keep finding themselves thrown from elation to depression, all in the name of love.
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