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Charles Bradley

From time to time the showbiz world always seems to throw out a lifeline to neglected pop artists, who’d – literally – once trodden the boards with stars and idols of their day. Soul music’s CHARLES BRADLEY was such an artist, making his impression on the critics aged over 60 with a couple of fine post-noughties sets, “No Time For Dreaming” and “Victim Of Love”.
Born November 5, 1948, Gainesville, Florida, Charles subsequently watched in awe, the soul stirring of stars such as JAMES BROWN, WILSON PICKETT and OTIS CLAY, dreaming one day that he would emulate his heroes on the stage; when Charles was 14, he witnessed the former icon perform his unique act at The Apollo, an electrifying night that he admitted left a permanent mark on his psyche.
So where did all these years go? Well, many of them were taken up by impersonating the aforementioned Godfather of Soul, while menial jobs – mainly as a cook – took up the long days of living from hand to mouth between Bar Harbor, Maine and Wassaic, New York, still thinking he could rise from the ghetto to become a respected artist with a bona fide record deal; sadly his backing band were drafted as the Vietnam War took hold. Hitchhiking to the west coast, the journeyman worked in Alaska and California, before the draw of the Big Apple took him back to Brooklyn, where his aforementioned JAMES BROWN-inflected R&B routines went down a storm at the Black Velvet club, et al.
Then, out of the blue, at 50+ and, with little prospects of finding his niche, Gabriel “Gabe” Roth at the independent, Brooklyn-based Daptone imprint gave lounge-singer BRADLEY a deal that would enable the singer – nicknamed the Screaming Eagle of Soul – to garner an outlet for his breath-taking vocal chords; Pop Idol and X-Factor were probably wishing he’d stood in their long queues to pop freedom.
Duly matched up with producer Thomas Brenneck (a white 30-something geezer), after the first of a series of one-off, limited-edition 7” singles for the label sprouted wings. It was indeed great to see a label reactivate the halcyon days of vinyl and, co-billed with the help of Sugarman & Co, `Take It As It Come’ reflected and projected something that was lost when Atlantic, Motown and Stax, er… moved on up.
Collaborating with The Bullets as his Afro-beat backing (Brenneck was their guitarist/songwriter), Charles continued in sporadic form on two further occasions with 2004’s `Now That I’m Gone’ and 2006’s `This Love Ain’t Big Enough For The Two Of Us’, before Daptone struck up a deal with Brenneck’s Dunham Records. Together with in-house soul collective, Menahan Street Band, 7” single after 7” single – without a hint of a picture sleeve – portrayed BRADLEY as an artist jazz-soul disciples might’ve missed first time around. As aforementioned this artist’s cool was of the mid-00s, and not the mid-60s; the singles, `The World (Is Going Up In Flames)’ (taking the shooting and killing of his brother by his nephew as its template), `The Telephone Song’ and `No Time For Dreaming’ (flipped with `Golden Rule’), product of a JAMES BROWN/WILSON PICKETT-esque singer that could go far if the right promotion buttons were pushed.
Creeping out from the heady release schedule that littered the first month of 2011, BRADLEY’s debut album NO TIME FOR DREAMING {*8} was just what the doctor ordered. Featuring Charles’s gritty screams of passion on `How Long’, and subsequent singles `Heart Of Gold’ (yes, the NEIL YOUNG nugget!) and the cosmic `Stay Away’, Southern-soul-type singer – and his “horny” Menahan posse – looked to have captured a fresh audience fed up with so-called R&B of the day.
Sophomore set, VICTIM OF LOVE (2013) {*8}, sold well enough to hit a respectful No.130 in the Billboard charts; no doubt helped by an autobiographical documentary film revealing the man’s heart-wrenching rise to fame. Anyone missing the Blaxploitation-era of the JBs, or even The TEMPTATIONS in all their greasy-gospel-grinding glory, BRADLEY and Brenneck retro-fied every song without the hint of an apology. There was no need. From The TAMS-meets-CHI-LITES-like `You Put The Flame On It’, the fluidly funky `Strictly Reserved For You’, the tender `Let Love Stand A Chance’ and the psychedelic `Confusion’, CB had kick-started a whole new breed – however aged – of spiritual soul singers.
Springing back on the good foot in 2016 with CHANGES {*7} – the title taken from his cool cover of the BLACK SABBATH classic! – “Mr. Dynamo” CHARLES BRADLEY stepped back even further to the 60s on this retro-soulful set of songs. Augmented by the staggering Menahan Street Band (who were afforded a complementary bonus-disc), the clock stopped on the power-strewn performances of `Ain’t Gonna Give It Up’, `Nobody But You’ and `You Think I Don’t Know (But I Know)’, tracks worthy of picking up yer old JB classics.
The all-too-sad epilogue to the man’s mighty mission was halted with his death (of stomach cancer) on September 23, 2017.
Depending on the artist, posthumous sets could be so wide-ranging or copious in these times of austerity, that it was indeed hard for both compiler and unerring fan to see eye-to-eye on inclusions. Therefore with only unreleased leftovers and a collection of rarities from Charles’s time at Daptone/Dunham to cherry-pick, chances were that any dilution might spurn listeners to fully enjoy the merits of BLACK VELVET (2018) {*7}. Taking the aforesaid scenario into account and treating the set as another step forward, the retro-soul of his own numbers – from `Can’t Fight The Feeling’ to an electric version of `Victim Of Love’ – matched that of choice covers of NIRVANA’s `Stay Away’ and NEIL YOUNG’s `Heart Of Gold’. The only disappointment was that it would be the last we hear of the talented Mr. BRADLEY.
© MC Strong/MCS Dec2013-Sep2017-Nov2018

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