To say that Charles Bradley is a late starter is the ultimate understatement. When he recorded his debut album in 2011 the native New Yorker was 62! That said he has the perfect soul singer’s CV. Born in a poor family, he was church-raised before going on the road to seek work. His odyssey took him right across the States – working where he could, sleeping in subways and eating in soup kitchens. He eventually returned to Brooklyn, finding work as a handyman but, in an attempt to raise a few more bucks, he also began singing in the local bars –presenting a James Brown tribute act which he called Black Velvet. Bradley had been a big fan of the Godfather since 1962 when his big sister took him to see Brown at the Harlem Apollo. Charles was instantly mesmerised and remained one of Brown’s biggest fans throughout all his own wanderings.
It was at one of his Black Velvet shows that Bradley was spotted by Gabe Roth of Daptone Records and the result was a record deal and that long-delayed debut, ‘No Time For Dreaming’. The old school soul set struck a chord with not just real soul fans but also the chattering classes and Bradley was soon feted in magazines like GQ, Esquire and Mojo and featured on TV with people like Jools Holland and Jay Leno – a far cry from riding box cars and washing diner dishes.
For his latest album, Charles offers more of the same easy-on-the-ear, throw back soul, but to show he’s no one trick pony he slips in a few tougher, psycho soul, rocky flavours. That’s most apparent on the gritty ‘Confusion’. It’s a meandering, hard-hitting cut that melds Mayfield with Whitfield… a ball of confusion indeed! ‘Where Do We Go From Here’ is loose and rocky too – those of a certain vintage might be reminded of the Chambers Brothers. The opener, ‘Strictly Reserved For You’ is rough-hewn too while the slow burner that is ‘Let Love Stand A Chance ‘is tinged with classic blues. ‘You Put The Flame On It’ is a lot lighter – a lovely, sing-along item with a hint of Sam Cooke to it… though Bradley’s vocal is a lot rougher than the maestro’s ever was.
The album also boasts a number of ballads and given Charles’ love of James Brown, his spirit is never too far away. The similarity is most noticeable on the stark, simple, insistent ‘Hurricane’ and that chin-chink guitar-led insistency also inhabits the aforementioned, ‘Strictly Reserved For You’.
64 years in the making – ‘Victim Of Love’ confirms that in this throwaway, digital, instant era, authentic, organic soul music is still being made.