Bobby Womack is one of those peculiar legends. Say his name and music listeners will unhesitatingly sing his praises. However, ask for favorite songs or reasons why and only astute fans will respond in detail.
With a career that spans over five decades, Womack has left an impression on several generations and numerous types of music listeners: from classic rhythm & blues fans to Tarantino-funk revivalists to slow-groove romantics. Perhaps, then, it is better to describe Womack’s fame more in terms of mood instead of specifics.
His music, as gathered on the new The Best of Bobby Womack: The Soul Years collection, evokes many times and places. His hit, "Across 110th Street," opens the compilation and immediately calls to mind three interpretations of the ’70s: the original blaxploitation era, the ’70s neo-revivalism in the chic ’90s flick Jackie Brown, and the quasi-reality ’70s noir of 2007’s American Gangster. The collection proceeds to hop through his career — primarily the ’60s and ’70s, as the title suggests: from his throwback "I’m a Midnight Mover" to his disco-era "Check It Out."
The nonchronological approach works, as it reflects the scattered impact of the artist across different eras and the synthetic modes he often worked in. Particularly impressive is his constant reinvention of norms — a feat he is often overlooked for — such as the shuffling "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" to the hot and steamy "California Dreamin’."
Alongside his hits, like 1971’s "That’s The Way I Feel About ‘Cha" and 1973 revival of his own "Lookin’ For a Love," the compilation uses Womack’s tremendous breadth of material instead of simple hits to summarize his vast impact.