As posthumous records go, there is nothing quite like Charles Bradley's Black Velvet. The soul singer, who passed away in September 2017, had made a name for himself late in life: first, in his early years, with a career as a James Brown cover artist (where he performed as the eponymous "Black Velvet"); and later, with his discovery by Daptone Records and the release of his debut album, No Time for Dreaming, at the age of 62. In many ways, Bradley and his music embodies the "soul of America." The singer came from next to nothing, grew up in poverty, got his big break after a "Black Velvet" gig, and died shortly after the release of his third album.
God was having a good day when he made Charles Bradley. Black Velvet is both a eulogy and a fitting end to Bradley’s remarkable career. In of possession a voice that can only be described as ‘godly’, Bradley only made four studio albums, and each of them is an absolute classic. This new record only furthers his impressive legacy, and offers some of his strongest material to date.
As someone who's has the pleasure and opportunity to meet and chat with the dearly departed Charles Bradley, it's important to note that the man was a genuine individual. Behind his often-smiling face and gravelly voice, there was a palpable sense of happiness, wistfulness and a true feeling of appreciation and accomplishment.
Indeed, there is an element of pathos to his story, of hardships, setbacks and health troubles. But throughout it all, there was the music for the former James Brown impersonator. Black Velvet was the name he used ….
This may be a posthumous release in the traditional sense, largely comprised of outtakes and singles, but it amply goes beyond the obligatory with its well-curated, beautifully packaged presentation. This “Screaming Eagle” of soul music may have arrived late in his life and left us too soon, but he poured so much of himself into every performance that gratitude should overtake any notion of regret. The consistent quality of his output could even lead one to question the value of longevity in music, beyond keeping that money train rolling.
In classic soul songs, life often just isn't fair. True love doesn't work out, fate takes a wrong turn, hard work goes unrewarded. Charles Bradley knew plenty about what made soul music great, and it was sad but somehow fitting that, after decades of struggle and disappointment, Bradley finally started receiving the acclaim he deserved after he cut his first album in 2011 at the age of 62, only to succumb to cancer in 2017.
Charles Bradley lucked into the kind of third act that few people could ever imagine. His early years were filled with neglect and poverty, buoyed by his discovery of James Brown when he was 14. As an adult, he drifted back and forth across North America, working odd jobs and singing on the side. In 2002, Bradley finally happened to be in the right place at the right time--in New York City, just as Daptone's retro-soul empire began to rise.
Photo by Isaac Sterling One last groove, one last funk, one last soul-rupturing scream—Black Velvet caps the brief but incendiary career of Charles Bradley. Bradley lived most of his life in obscurity, working odd jobs and performing occasionally as a James Brown impersonator, under the stage name "Black Velvet." It was in this guise that he came to the attention of Daptone's Gabriel Roth in 1996. Roth recognized his volcanic soul potential and introduced him to Tom Brenneck, the leader of the Menahan Street Band.
Charles Bradley may have been the best hugger in show business. It was tradition at his concerts to walk into the audience and embrace complete strangers like they were old friends — sometimes he even passed out roses. As shown in the 2012 documentary on his life, Bradley faced decades of hardship before finally starting a solo career at the unconventional age of 62.