Bobby Womack - Pieces (Reissue)
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In 1978, Bobby Womack must have felt like a boot salesman in Bermuda. Musically, he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Here was Womack, the ultimate soul man, just a few years removed from a burst of creativity unmatched by anyone with the possible exception of Stevie Wonder. Yet, it appeared that evolving musical tastes had turned in a way that left the Cleveland crooner on the outside looking in.
In 1978, disco was king. For those who were not born or are not old enough to recall the cultural juggernaut that was disco in the last three years of the 1970s, consider this: Rock performers such as Rod Stewart and the Rolling Stones made disco songs in 1978, such was the pressure to be a part of this musical trend. Earth, Wind & Fire was likely in the studio working on an album that would include one of the era's best disco anthems. The genre was at its absolute apex, and the great fall that was about a year away was nowhere in sight.
It was at this time that Womack released Pieces, now being reissued by Purpose Vaults. And while it would be incorrect to call Pieces a disco album, Womack clearly heard the songs played on the radio, Nor can it be said that Womack was solely motivated by commercial concerns. LIke all great artists, Womack is a curious soul who is more than willing to step outside of perceived musical boxes. This year's The Bravest Man in the Universe proves that.
Womack didn't seek to be Giorgio Moroder on Pieces. Up-tempo disco influenced numbers such as "It's Party Time" balanced southern soul brass with a disco influenced bass line and lyrics about partying and dancing. He sticks with that formula while changing the message on the inspirational track "Never Let Nothing Get the Best of You." Yet, as this reissue by Purpose Music shows, Womack's best work on Pieces came on the tracks that staked out familiar thematic territory of relationships in which he struggles (and often fails) to avoid temptation.
The reissue features alternate tracks on four cuts featured on the original album, as well as newly commissioned interviews with Womack and other artists. Womack, as we learned on classics such as "Harry HIppie" and "If You Think You're Lonely Now," is a natural storyteller, and three of Pieces' stronger tracks play to that strength. Womack teams with Candi Staton on "Stop Before We Start," a number in which the two wonder whether the other party is ready for a stable relationship or if they should break things off before they get too serious. This is Womack at his best, in a constant battle between the higher and lower angels of his nature. It's a territory this son of a preacher man knows well. Of course, Womack is at his absolute best when he loses that battle, as the cuts "When Love Begins Friendship Ends" and "Caught Up in the Middle" show. The former finds Womack explaining to a good friend that Womack's dalliance with the man's wife is a result of the friend's failings as a husband. Meanwhile, "Caught Up In the Middle" finds Womack trying reconcile is physical attraction to mean Sally and sweet Barbara.
Pieces is clearly a notch below Womack's classic output during the 1970s. The forays into disco give the work an uneven quality. However, the disc also proves that when it comes to making adult oriented R&B or soul music, Womack was, is and will always be totally locked in. Recommended
By Howard Dukes