Written by 4:43 am Audiophile Music

Charles Bradley Champions Soul Changes For A New Generation

Mark Smotroff squeezes more soul sparks from 2016


I’ve said it before… and I’ll say it again…  pointing a finger directly at the knee-jerk naysayers, cyber-cynics and otherwise bleakness-mongering individuals who claim there is “no good music being made anymore” …. 

I have a one heartfelt word response: Poppycock! And I’ll add in a heartfelt “Baloney” and, in Yiddish, “Meshuga!”

But, seriously folks…..

AR-CharlesBradleyDreamingBackCover225.jpgWith more music available to us than ever before, is it really logical to make such broad stroke claims that absolutely no good music exists anymore?  Of course not! The rub is you have poke around a bit to find this new music as it may not be played on your favorite mainstream radio station or while you are shopping for Kale Chips at Whole Foods. 

For those of you who may be looking for something current… something soulful and heartfelt…. something funky and melodic… something fresh yet with a vintage vibe… you really need to listen to Charles Bradley.  A handful of you may remember I wrote about him back in April when I reviewed a fine introductory live DVD

Bradley has been around for a while and I admit I’m a bit late to the party myself, diving in head first just this year.  But, from what I’ve found when talking with friends and acquaintances, many others haven’t even received an invite to the party yet.  

Thus, I am writing this review for you, Dear Readers …

Shortly after my earlier review ran, I picked up Charles’ then brand-new album Changes as well as his first release (both on Daptone Records subsidiary, Dunham Records), No Time For Dreaming. 

Both are fine  modern Soul and R ‘n B albums with a classic feel, from the writing to the instrumentation to the performances to the production.  Charles Bradley delivers his messages of peace, love and hope via a world weary, passionately raspy rich voice.  His recordings sound like they could have been made in 1966 or 2016. 

AR-CharlesBradleyMenahanStBand225.jpgStylistically, his music — with backing from Brooklyn’s most excellent Menahan Street Band — sounds like a mash up of the best of mid-late 1960s and early ’70s soul.  You can make a checklist: Memphis flavors ala Stax Records (Booker T & The MGs) and Hi Records (Al Green) are there.  New York tastes ala Atlantic Records and its various subsidiaries like Volt Records (from Aretha Franklin to Otis Redding to Solomon Burke) are present and accounted for (and perhaps even Dial Records, at one point the home to Joe Tex, a rival to the Godfather of Soul for many years). 

Speaking of… add in healthy pinch of spice from King Records and Polydor Records, homes to different eras of James Brown for many years… 

Toss all this in a salad with healthy dressing made from the essence of Curtis Mayfield, Bobby Womack and Marvin Gaye… 

Mix thoroughly and enjoy! 

Tub thumping bass. Punchy fat drums. Crispy high hats and tastefully blended cymbals. Punctuating horns and groove-sealing guitar riffs and hooks.  Its all here, neatly wrapped up in nice thick, well pressed, quiet, deep black vinyl long playing records.

Most importantly there is that voice.

“Good Gawwwd!” 

Charles Bradley has “that voice.”   

His latest album Changes is a great place to start exploring Bradley’s music.  The title track is a remarkable re-interpretation of a great song by none other than England’s heavy metal pioneers, Black Sabbath. Here he expands upon the somber mellotron-infused Church-like original, taking it to a grander and more logical conclusion, bringing out more of the aching Soul and Gospel undertones which Ozzy and company hinted at in their original.  

This album is full of cool tunes that will get yer booty shakin’ and toes a-tappin’ — paying homage to legends before, and keeping the torch burning bright for new generations to come.  I mean, sure we can all listen to the old records — I certainly do!!!  But it is just so cool to hear a new track like “Things We Do For Love” which sounds sort of like what might happen if Solomon Burke re-wrote “Groovin'” by The Young Rascals. “Nobody But You” is a slice of pop soul by way of Al Green with a vibrato-drenched guitar licks.  

“Ain’t It A Sin” has such a killer groove this side of early 70s James Brown and JBs sides that I challenge you to not bob your head up and down and side to side and maybe even get up to dance around the room.  

Pardon the self-censored expletive, but this is the s**t, as the kids say. 

Charles’ first album from 2011, No Time For Dreaming, is a great spin as well.  “This World (Is Going Up In Flames)” is a protest song for the ages that could have been written in 1968 or 1972 but feels just right in 2016.  A track like “Heartaches and Pain” could have easily been done by Janis Joplin and her Kosmic Blues Band in 1970. 

]]>With a more direct nod to that early 70s vibe, Bradley tackles a soulful version of Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold” here (one of two bonus tracks on the MP3 download included with the album).  Heck, there is even an instrumental called “Since Our Last Goodbye” which could have been an outtake from the sessions that spawned Marvin Gaye’s “Mercy Mercy Me” (on the What’s Goin’ On album). 

AR-CharlesBradleyChangesGlossy225.jpgSpeaking of instrumental, kudos must be paid to the group of musicians behind Charles Bradley on these records, Menahan Street Band. They are pretty incredible, playing this sort of music with an authority and intensity we haven’t really heard since those early days of the original releases Bradley is referencing.  

For me, Menahan Street Band was the best discovery I made from Elvis Costello’s collaboration with The Roots (Wise Up Ghost, 2013) — there was a remix / rework of one of the tunes done with them on a companion EP (Wise Up: Thought Remixes & Reworks) from that period.  That track (“Tripwire”) resonated more with me than anything on the regular album and I think it had to do with the essence of that band and what they brought to Elvis’ song. 

Likewise, Menahan Street Band is no doubt an integral part of the sound and authenticity underscoring Charles Bradley’s records, bringing his music to life with a vintage vibe and a modern flair all their own.  

AR-CharlesBradleyDreamingLabel225.jpgAnd…. if you shop around a bit, you can probably still find the limited edition version of Changes which comes in a spiffy gatefold cover with an 8×10 photo of Charles PLUS (most importantly) a complete bonus LP of instrumental versions of all the tracks on the album!  Its a cool listen and perhaps especially notable when you listen to the title track, where you can hear Charles’ voice bleeding through into the band’s tracks — leading me to believe that they recorded this music in a vintage style as well : with everyone in the same room at the same time!  

That, folks, is how you capture musical lightning and also bring back that amazing sound from the past for future generations to come. Get the whole group together all in the same recording space, playing as one, the musicians vibing off the energies of one another.  

That makes the music come alive. That makes the sound. 

And this sounds so, so great…. 

Charles Bradley with Menahan Street Band are making some awesome music, folks. 

Do check them out.

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