Charles Bradley is proof that you’re never too old to make it. Here is a man who sounds as if he was born with his gravelly croon. The reincarnated spirit of James Brown, the razor sharp delivery of Otis Redding and the unhinged forcefulness of Sam Cooke when he really let it belt at some of his live shows.
Despite releasing his first proper debut record in 2012 at the age of 64, Bradley tears down soul pins with his vocal bowling ball like he’s been doing it all his life. And he probably has. You get the sense that Bradley was one of the great undiscovered voices in the annuls of pop music history before Daptone Records discovered him and wisely gave him a home and a career.
And now with Changes, his third album in four years, Bradley has a trilogy of albums that can rightly be called some of the most exciting in modern day soul music. Like Pokey LaFarge with western swing and J.D. McPherson with rockabilly, Bradley at first sounds as if he was born a few decades too late. He sounds as if he would’ve been a chart topper in the 70’s alongside Brown and Redding et al. But I don’t think this is the case. The 60’s and 70’s had Brown and Redding. It had a boatload of great soul music. Charles Bradley is our soul man. We need him here and now and if there is such a thing as destiny, then the reason he wasn’t making soul records when he was 25 is because we needed his voice today. Not that there aren’t a lot of quality soulful voices out there today, but I’d venture to say that Bradley’s is the most authentic in the classical way. His is the most telling. As with all the soul greats, you can hear the hard times in his delivery. You can hear the things he’s been through and you can feel the pain, the disappointment and the joy that those things have crafted within him when he attacks the mic.
Take the title track off the new album: ‘Changes’ is a cover of a Black Sabbath song. A number of artists have covered it, but Bradley makes it his own in a way that gives it a gravitas it hasn’t had before. Or the wickedly entertaining ‘Ain’t It A Sin’, with its old school funk.
Overall I would say that Changes is a slower, more introspective album than his last two. There seems to be more emphasis on identity and its many faces and less on the jumpy bounce of love that Victim of Love had. But that just means his albums each have a theme.
Still, ‘Crazy For Your Love’ is a nice simple song about falling in and out of love. And album closer ‘Slow Love’ is a fitting album sendoff, which is pretty self explanatory thematically.
On the other side, ’Good To Be Back Home’ is a nice way to open the album: a easy moving stroll through returning to ones roots. And ‘You Think I Don’t Know (But I Know)’, one of my favorites on the album, is a song which manages to be both funky and easy moving at the same time.
Charles Bradley is an exciting artist. Although he’s only been on the scene, so to speak, for a couple of years, expect his star to continue to rise as his career rolls along.
Changes is a great record. It doesn’t have the immediacy of his last two albums, but rather than this meaning that Bradley has lost the fire, I think it just means that he has found his groove. And with one of the best backing bands in the business behind him in The Extraordinaire, this is record you need to get. [Pre-order HERE on iTunes out April 1st]