Soul Retrospective: Bobby Womack’s ‘Facts of Life’

Bobby WomackFacts of Life was Bobby Womack‘s sixth release in a catalogue that already included 1971’s Communication and 1972’s soundtrack classic, Across 110th Street, and songs like “Harry Hippie” and “That’s The Way Feel About Cha.” By this point, Womack was known as “The Preacher” due to his hard-earned and often profound views on relationships.

Facts of Life is all but the perfect Bobby Womack album that displayed his strong originals as well as his inventive and transformative work on cover versions. That’s certainly true of Facts of Life’s first track. Womack recasts Billie Holiday’s “Nobody Wants You When You’re Down and Out” into a funky strut and he not only changed the structure of the lyrics, he gave the song an almost eerie, psychedelic tone that made the message even more stinging.

The covers and remakes are exceedingly strong on Facts of Life, but like most of Womack’s best work, the greatest songs were written by Womack himself. The devastating ballad, “I’m Through Trying To Prove My Love To You,” has Womack matching great lines with great phrasing, and every word had a sense of cogency and power. “Medley: Fact of Life/He’ll  Be There When The Sun Goes Down” takes a breezier though no less strong approach and veers from the hilarious to the poignant while issuing some pragmatic and hard-earned lessons.

Regardless of the styles and genres employed on Facts of Life, there’s an underlying core of confidence and joy throughout the effort. Great mid-tempo tracks the like the oddly poignant “Can’t Stop a Man in Love” and the convivial “If You Can’t Give Her Love” both have a rootsy style and an ease that later ’70s Womack albums couldn’t quite attain.

While it’s no shock Womack’s talent was broadening at this time, Facts of Life was also filled with a few surprises that gave listeners a closer glimpse of his persona and personality.  “You Make Me Feel Like (A Natural Man)” (Womack’s cover of the 1967 Aretha Franklin hit) has Womack capturing the excitement and surprise inherent in the original version. Womack is so on his game on Facts of Life that he even takes on an old warhorse like Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s “The Look of Love” and turns it into something engrossing and evocative. Arguably the best cover on Facts of Life was one that was close to home. The peaceful and lyrically picturesque “That’s Heaven to Me” was a song from Womack’s friend and mentor Sam Cooke, and on many of the verses Womack’s voice recalls Cooke in a warm and reverential way.

At its best, Facts of Life was ambitious in scope though warmly and austerely executed. The album was recorded at the revered Muscle Shoals Studio with the house band, the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, which included players like David Hood, Barry Beckett, and Roger Hawkins. Bobby Womack and veteran arranger René Hall (Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye) composed emotional string charts and Womack’s brothers, the Valentinos, performed the background vocals in their inimitable and haunting close-harmony style.

Facts of Life was a top ten R&B album and hit the pop Top 40. Unfortunately, United Artists didn’t seem to give Facts of Life a lot of time to prove itself on the charts. In 1974, the label released Greatest Hits, Lookin’ For a Love, and I Don’t Know What This World Is Coming To. Womack’s product of the mid-‘70s was notoriously hit or miss, and the two regular release albums didn’t quite have the Facts Of Life’s single-mindedness. Facts of Life displayed all of the

best facets of his style including the grit, the vulnerability, and world-weary wisdom. Those facts might makes it one of his best efforts.

—Jason Elias

Jason Elias is a pop culture historian and a music journalist.

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