There can be few artists who are discovered while in their fifties performing as James Brown impersonators.Yet that is exactly what happened to Charles Bradley when he was discovered by Daptone Records’ Gabriel Roth. Encouraged into the studio, Bradley teamed up with Sugarman & Co in 2002 and later with The Bullets for a number of singles. Yet it wasn’t until 9 years later that some of those singles, as well as several newer songs were combined into his debut album No Time For Dreaming, the culmination of years of work, and packed full of the emotions, frustrations and setbacks that had been building for over 60 years.
Subsequent tours have been emotional experiences, often moving both the crowd and the artist himself to tears. Soul of America, a documentary telling of his life followed last year. The question is, after such a journey, how much more does Bradley have left to give?
Once again teamed with Menahan Street Band, Victim of Love initially continues in the footsteps of Bradley’s debut and its preceding 7”s, and finds him playing the classic soul role of the pleading lover, with the band providing pin-sharp accompaniment as well as cooing backing vocals. Both ‘You Put The Flame On It’ and ‘Let Love Stand A Chance’ find Bradley revisiting a certain Mr Brown’s back catalogue, replete with guttural “ugh”s on the former and on the latter issuing a drawn out plea to start anew, backed by mournful tremolo guitars and sorrowful organs. Its a familiar sound, yet Bradley proves that No Time For Dreaming was not a one off, once again able to mine his 60 plus years of life experience and channel it in to wails and moans that tug on the heartstrings and crack with emotion.
‘Dusty Blue’ is a strutting minor key instrumental that marks the halfway point in the album. It stands as a musical turning point too, a step away from the mid ’60s soul of Otis and early James Brown and towards a much darker sound: flutes flare, snares crack and hands clap, moving things in to the realm of The Meters. Yet this departure in sound is nothing compared to what follows: ‘Confusion’ is hard-hitting, taut funk that combines the buzzing bass and echoing vocals of Curtis Mayfield’s ‘(Don’t Worry) If There’s A Hell Below, We’re All Going To Go’ with Cloud 9 era Temptations, or even Baby Huey and The Babysitters. It’s claustrophobic, fuzzed out and overtly political, far removed from the lovelorn material that precedes it. ‘Where Do We Go From Here’ continues in this fine psychedelic soul vein, with Bradley imploring the listeners to stop and make a difference, concerned about what we will leave behind for future generations, while ‘Hurricane’ implores the listener to stop killing the planet. There is such an urgency and charge to this trio of songs that when Bradley’s thoughts return to love (or rather lost love) on ‘Crying in The Chapel’ it almost comes as a disappointment.
It would have been easy for Bradley and his bandmates to produce a record full of soulful love songs built around his remarkable voice. But, as Bradley knows only to well, things in life aren’t always easy. Having finally been given the opportunity to have his voice heard, it seems he is taking the opportunity to speak out with both hands, and Victim of Love is all the better for it. In the Menahan Street Band he has found the perfect group to drive him forward. Victim of Love may only be Charles Bradley’s second album but it marks another remarkable footstep in the life of its creator.