Shortly after I first heard this album, Bobby Womack passed away. A pity, as it was only a year earlier that he was in New Zealand for a concert. I still kick myself that I didn't cotton on to Womack earlier. I'm a big RnB and Soul guy, yet somehow I let the chance to see him live slip past.
The Poet, released in 1981, marked something of a comeback for Womack. He had made his name with some terrific albums in the early seventies, including the soundtrack for Across 110th Street, one of the great blaxploitation films (the main theme was later lifted for the final scene of Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown). By mid-decade the hits had dried up, but Womack kept plugging away for the next through years (his album with the Crusaders' Wilton Felder, Inherit The Wind, is apparently terrific and is the next on my listening list).
I ended up buying a double LP which included the sequel. While the critical consensus favours the first album, together they have a nice symmetry. Plus you get a couple tracks with Patti Labelle.
Let's get into it.
The Poet (1981)
If you've read even a few of my music reviews, you know I like a good opening track. 'So Many Sides Of You' comes out the gate at full gallop. The album never really slackens, even when Womack slows things down for a few ballads. The production makes everything sound fresh and clean. There are a few synth bits and bobs throughout, but not enough to really date the album.
The album is filled with great tracks: 'Lay It On Me', 'Secrets' and 'If You Think You're Lonely Now' are personal favourites, but the track list is so strong it's hard to pick out a weak song. The only one that doesn't quite work is also the most dated: 'Stand Up', a dance track that feels just a mite out of place.
The penultimate track, 'If You Think You're Lonely Now', is the best song on the album and one of Womack's best. It is so great, the album's closer 'Where Do We Go From Here' feels a tad anti-climactic.
Lasting only eight songs, the album never truly outstays its welcome. Pound for pound, The Poet is one of the best RnB albums out there.
Now to the sequel.
The Poet II (1984)
While it was released three years later, there is little difference in style or production between The Poet and its sequel. The album begins with a trio of duets with Patti LaBelle, none of which would have been out of place on its predecessor.
Of the more nu-wave style tracks, 'Tell Me Why' is the best, probably because it doesn't sound like one. It does boast a synth beat, but it is somewhat covered by the band and backing singers. For some reason that is the one track of the album which I've listened to the most.
My feelings about The Poet II are coloured by the fact that the CD I own includes both albums. As such, it is easier to appreciate the way both albums feel of a piece with each other. It's not quite as good on its own, and I have not listened to it as much, but The Poet II is not that bad. It just lacks the freshness and songs of the first record.
If you want to, get the combo that has both albums as one set. Otherwise, stick to the original.