Following his Sam Cooke-assisted stint as a teenage gospel/R&B star in The Valentinos, Womack was a backroom Muscle Shoals songwriter and session guitarist when he got his solo contract in 1969. From the Deep South Sinatraisms of the title track to the soulful inferno of “What Is This”, he set out an impressively broad gameplan on his debut, 1969’s Fly Me To The Moon.
But, saddled with near impossible deadlines, he always struggled to make the classic album worthy of his reputation. Recorded days apart, Understanding and Communication from the early ’70s came close?the gorgeous interpretation of James Taylor’s “Fire And Rain”, the haunted beauty of “Harry Hippie”, inspired by his brother’s addiction ?but the rushed circumstances intrude on the finished albums.
Despite having the irreverent working title of “Black In The Saddle”, 1976’s BW Goes C&W was a sincere tribute to often overlooked roots, but even Womack’s best efforts couldn’t transcend such unbearably hokey material (“Mockingbird”).
Previously, unavailable on CD and boasting some standout uncompiled moments (such as the mighty version of “All Along The Watchtower” on The Facts Of Life) these albums’ historic importance is not in doubt. But too often the sound is of a formidable talent struggling to meet unreasonable output demands.