Bobby Womack – review

Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow
There's grit and gumption in the soul legend's performance that suggests he is not content simply to ride his fame

"So many friends of mine are no longer here," says Bobby Womack. "But I always give them respect." Pushing 70, and having survived a recent cancer scare, Womack still looks, and sounds, like a fighter. Few other performers playing Celtic Connections, Glasgow's long-standing winter roots festival, would take to the stage in a red leather ensemble of jacket, trousers and military cap, like a superfly Che Guevara. Even the opening number, Womack's cool, hard-knock hit Across 110th Street, sounds like a challenge to the crowd: you'd better keep up.

Womack is now 50 years into a career that, by his own admission, had flamed out until Damon Albarn pursued him to collaborate with Gorillaz. It wasn't the first time hip UK talent had sought to leverage the soul legend: Womack had a fruitful collaboration with producers Rae & Christian around the millennium. But it was Albarn who brought him back to prominence, first with Gorillaz and then by co-producing Womack's 2012 comeback album The Bravest Man in the Universe, framing his distinctive soul groan with subtly skittering production.

That record was critically hymned but doesn't get much of a run-out tonight – the title track becomes the obligatory meet-the-band number, which is either an honour or a backhanded compliment, depending on your patience. Womack does revisit the spiritual standard Deep River, one of a handful of times his voice isn't being augmented by the potentially ersatz force of 10 powerhouse session musicians, and it's wonderful.

A supplementary trio of backing singers includes his daughter, GinaRe, with whom he playfully duets on A Change Is Gonna Come, in tribute to his friend and mentor Sam Cooke. Between songs, Womack lays out some hard-earned life lessons about the importance of fidelity and romance, but there's still a robust carnal charge to Woman's Gotta Have It and If You Think You're Lonely Now.

Barnstorming revues by legends of advanced years can sometimes seem so slick as to be paradoxically soulless. But there's enough grit and gumption in evidence to suggest that Womack, while frail, is not content to merely coast, and recent studio sessions with Stevie Wonder, Rod Stewart and Snoop Dogg suggest there's more to come. He reluctantly totters off during an extended version of the reconciliatory jam I Can Understand It. Like the man himself, it still sounds irresistible after more than 40 years.

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Contributor

Graeme Virtue

The GuardianTramp

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