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Charles Bradley: Changes – Album Review

5 April, 2016 — by Christopher Ratcliff0

Let’s not dwell on the tough life of Charles Bradley for too long, although it is worth bringing up the fact that up until a decade ago, before he was discovered by the good people at Daptone records, few soul singers have ever had more real-life heartache and pain to inject into their music than Bradley.

There’s a great documentary about Charles Bradley called Soul of America that you should definitely watch. It details his life prior to the release of his debut album, touching on his abandonment as a child, his hitchhiking between New York and Alaska, toiling in various menial jobs, constant poverty, a near-death experience and a tragic family murder. It’s tough stuff.

But right now, the 67 year-old ‘screaming eagle of soul’ is having the time of his life.

charles bradley

After his exceptional debut album No Time for Dreaming was released was in 2011, Bradley has toured the world, released two more peerless albums and finally gained the recognition he deserves. Yes he may have spent many of his decades working as a James Brown impersonator (you can’t help but still hear that staccato inflection in his voice today) but he imbues his work with such huge depths of emotion and richness of experience that he exceeds Brown note for note.

On Changes, Charles Bradley is at his most vulnerable, offering cathartic paeans to lost or unrequited love, along with humble admittances that perhaps it’s better being at home rather than travelling the world on tour (he is 67 and the guy deserves a break more than anybody) but that’s not to say that he’s gone soft. Hell no. There’s more power and fire behind every word than ever before.

The centrepiece of the album is a cover of Black Sabbath’s ‘Changes’, the original being a dreary maudlin ballad that features Ozzy at his metallic raspiness, but Bradley turns it into one of the most beautiful, uplifting soul tracks recorded in decades. It’s a complete triumph and one I find utterly addictive…

Yeah, that’s the stuff.

Elsewhere on the album there’s plenty of fun to be had. ‘Good to Be Back Home’ perhaps takes the most inspiration from James Brown, it has a similar rhythm to ‘The Boss’. But the difference here is in the warmth of his backing bands The Extraordinaries and the Menahan Street Band, whose horns, organs and electric guitars provide a thickly textured and often playful backing to Bradley’s huge emotional range. In fact the whole album shows a more diverse quality than previous collections. There’s the sprightly funk of ‘Ain’t it a Sin’, the classic doo-wop of ‘Things We Do For Love’, the sexy as hell ‘Nobody But You’ and the simple gospel of ‘God Bless America’.

It’s pretty easy to balk at the unpolitical naivety of his patriotism (the first two tracks both trade in this) especially as Bradley’s spent most of his life working against a socio-economic system built to keep him down. But then Charles Bradley would never allow himself to be a victim, and it’s only through his own sheer determination, talent and ambition that he’s finally got to where he is today. Which in fact describes the American dream perfectly, so I’ll just shut my face and listen to ‘Changes’ again.

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Charles Bradley - Changes

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