Release Date: Apr 1, 2016
Record label: Daptone
With a remarkable voice that holds a million riveting stories, Charles Bradley continues his rise against all odds with his third album, Changes.The album opens with a personal word from Bradley about what home means to him after being away. While early tracks like "God Bless America" feel like church and relief, the album picks up in tempo by "Good to be Back at Home."Bradley weaves several themes throughout: he evokes a sense of patriotism and reflection, while soulful ballads like "Things We Do For Love" and "Crazy For Your Love" implore a sense of desperation and sensibility familiar to Bradley. The juxtaposition of patriotism, war, chaos and love feels intentional and purposeful, and it makes Changes different than its two predecessors.
'God Bless America', the opening track to Charles Bradley's latest record Changes, is a bold choice, especially compared to the first tracks of his previous records. Both 'Strictly Reserved' and 'The World (Is Going Up In Flames)' were early standout tracks that introduced new listeners to the raw emotion of Bradley's weathered vocals. 'God Bless America' meanwhile is far more subdued, with Bradley speaking over a quiet church organ about how the hardships he's faced have made him stronger.
If Wilson Pickett could cover the Archies and Al Green could interpret the Bee Gees, why shouldn't Charles Bradley put his spin on Black Sabbath? Bradley's deep, soulful reading of Black Sabbath's "Changes" (from 1972's Vol. 4) became something of a viral sensation when it first surfaced on a Record Store Day single in 2013. Now it's become the title track and cornerstone of Bradley's third album, and in this context it doesn't sound like a novelty, but like the striking, deeply felt performance it truly is.
After the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in April 1968, many American urban areas exploded into riots. But not Boston. The story goes that city officials convinced James Brown, who was scheduled to perform that night at Boston Garden, to perform live and on television and urge ….
The story of Charles Bradley is well told; struggling in bad jobs before discovery in his 60s. Despite overcoming his tribulations, they will never cease to inform his music – it’s what makes his yearning vocals so authentic – and nor would we want them to. Changes then is his third album, and save for a fairly unnecessary cover of that Black Sabbath song, continues pretty much where 2013’s Victim Of Love left off.
Few things are more spiritually profound than getting a hug from Charles Bradley. He really means it, for one thing, and he seems to take as much solace from the gesture as he inevitably gives. It’s a lot like his music. Bradley is a soul survivor who came up the hard way, scratching out every break he ever got through a combination of working his tail off and perseverance.
“America, you’ve been real, honest, hurt and sweet to me, but I wouldn’t change it for the world…” Awww, it’s hard not to swoon at the big hearted humanity of Charles Bradley, the 67-year-old James Brown impersonator who was plucked from a Brooklyn Housing Project and turned into one of the star turns on the roster of the retro soul label Daptone Records. It was the tear-jerking 2011 documentary Soul of America that first brought him to wider attention, showing Bradley caring for his elderly mother and telling the story of his years of struggle and heartbreak. His travails gave even greater weight to his giant, wailing voice and expressive performances, and in a world of hipster posturing Bradley’s authenticity and sincerity shone.
The story of Charles Bradley is a quintessentially American one. As chronicled in the excellent documentary Soul of America, he was down on his luck until he was discovered as a James Brown impersonator, becoming the unlikeliest of stars at age 65. Bradley is now on his third album, Changes, and is backed by The Extraordinaires, who replace The Menahan Street Band.
It’s easy to root for Charles Bradley, the 67-year-old soul singer who has spent the last few years enjoying a breakout career on Daptone Records. Bradley’s underdog narrative has remained as genuinely endearing as it has perpetually marketable, and Changes, his third album, feels like his straightforward best to date, the result of an improved dynamic between the singer and his band. If he ever sounded awkwardly patched in on previous recordings, Bradley now seems to command ownership of his songs like never before.
In the first few seconds of this, his third album, Charles Bradley describes himself as “a brother who came from the hard licks of life, who knows that America is my home”. Later, he says “America represents love for humanity, for all the world” before asking to God to “bless America, my home, sweet home”. Fortunately, what follows on the rest of Changes is a challenge to Bradley's beloved nation, rather than a mere paean to its greatness.
Charles Bradley, the subject of a 2012 documentary, is a soul man with a storied past, not least his long stint as a James Brown impersonator. Here, on his third album since emerging as an artist in his own right, Bradley makes more like Al Green than Brown, mobilising a kind of weary, vintage warmth as he repeatedly tackles heartbreak in the company of the Daptone Horns, and blanches at the state of the world on the unexpectedly dubby Change for the World. Most notable of all is a monumental cover of Black Sabbath’s Changes, teasing out the blues-metal band’s heretofore unnoticed soul bent.
We have to take good care of Charles Bradley, because once he's gone, there won't be anybody left making music like his any more. The third album from Brooklyn's Screaming Eagle of Soul seems unearthed from a time capsule half a century old. The production is unpolished, warm and organic. It had to be.
Yes, there’s more to R&B in early 2016 than Anderson .Paak. The Los Angeles dynamo has been rightly lionized for blending hip-hop, pimpish soul, and skate-park pop on his second album Malibu, following his breakthrough contributions (among far bigger names) on Dr. Dre’s swan song, Compton. But ….