I’ve always thought Charles Bradley was ghastly, just ghastly – and the pairing of his parched, busted, broken gospel-funk yelp with the shiny-new Daptone horns is, of course, genius. It’s Ikea Soul Music TM – the problem is never that various Chandlers and Joeys are telling you that you must try it, it’s when some knowledgeable head, raised on James Brown and Al Green and Otis and Aretha tells you, too, that you must try it.
I’ve tried it – several times – including nearly making it to the halfway mark of one of his concerts. No thanks. The dude cannot sing. The songs are dull as the dishwater he once bathed in back on difficult street where he earned his stripes.
I’m convinced that he cannot sing. Nothing will change my mind. But I get that some others are sure he embodies soul – and soul music’s hard battles. And hey, they’re convinced too. Well, whatever, we all like to be right. And we’re all sure we are, we’re all allowed a turn at it – until tax season anyway.
I’m starting this review this way because I really have to put across how less than mediocre I think Bradley is. I get the endearing story, rather enjoyed the documentary in spite of his music – but it’s all just done-before and done-so-much-better-before…
So, that said – you can see where I’ve drawn my line – Changes, the new Charles Bradley album, his third, is easily his best. Now that’s obviously some sort of back-handed compliment since I think he’s not good enough for the world’s worst cruise ship, but, this one is nearly palatable. You’ll still hear that awful screech as he aims for the James Brown shout. But the tone and feel of this, musically, is pretty sound. Smartly political enough to line up as part of a Black Lives Matter world. But not so bogged down in politics that it alienates those wanting – just – the casual listen. And slightly reminiscent of the early 2000s “comeback” sets from Al Green and Solomon Burke. In that vein…
This is a smartly assembled set of songs and it has a summer-time good-feeling flow to it.
The title track is a soul version of Black Sabbath’s songs Changes. And it’s great. A clever trick given the original was such a dirge and usually it’s been Bradley’s practice to drag songs back toward the dirge. Here the overused “Magic Trick” of funking up a song from the rock world (Lee Fields and Sharon Jones just stop it!) works a small wonder, not quite a miracle, but close enough. (Extra close when you consider that Bradley is a horrific hack – sorry, just reminding you of that line I’ve drawn).
I still don’t see the point – in a world where you can find anything and everything by Sly & The Family Stone and Al Green and Donny Hathaway and The Meters and Allen Toussaint and so many others I’m baffled as to why you’d need this gravel-voiced coal-dumping bore; his story is a celebration though of overcoming vice, of surviving. And we love that sort of a story. So much so we’ll take an inferior soundtrack to boot.
So Bradley fans are in for a treat – or given I’ve hated everything to date and am trying to give this a mild tick maybe this album’s total rubbish. Who knows? There is a shed in the garden, of that we can be certain, but where is the truth?