Charles Bradley: No Time For Dreaming
Words By Andy DeVilbiss
The reason true, old school soul's worked for over 50 years? It knows and accepts its simple recipe of hot, naked truth. Make it in the back raw and real, but serve it up front hot, heartfelt and honest. It doesn't front, and it's direct. The band kicks open the door and says, “Gonna do it tight and sweet and we're gonna crush it. Remember, it's all about the singer.” Then, when he's damn good and ready, the singer strolls in, picks up the mic and you hear everything you need to hear with just that first note. “I ain't hiding. All I got is my sweat, my story, my voice. And if you're lucky, a cape.”
That sense of honesty is mostly what I want out of a soul singer. The Dap-Kings backed Amy Winehouse on “Rehab, which, despite it's beloved status amongst “WOOOOO!!!!” girls, is a vapid rant about treatment facilities. I feel for you, Amy. You like to party and do not like to stop. Chin up, kid. That is... Chin up, only if you haven't already sold your chin for whatever the British equivalent of crack is.
But when The Dap-Kings throw down with their regular singer, Miss Sharon Jones? It's an entirely more exciting, richer and emotional result because as you stand in awe of her amazing voice, you BELIEVE Sharon Jones. No matter what she's singing, the truth comes through. Luckily for anyone who's heard her, Daptone Records “discovered” Sharon and had the good sense to recognize her honest talent.
Daptone seems to have a knack for finding that sort of honest talent. Talent like Charles Bradley, a 62 year old singer who just released his debut album “No Time For Dreaming” on the label in late January. And when you hear his first vocal riff in the socially-conscious and pointed opener, “The World Is Going Up In Flames,” and every note after, as you should, you hear everything you need to hear.
There's definitely some sweat from from James Brown at the Apollo in 1962, where, thanks to his sister, Charles Bradley sat in the audience, inspired by the Godfather's energy and showmanship to get off the streets of Brooklyn and become a musician. The entire album is firmly stocked with that early James Brown vibe, all the way from the danceable title track to the plaintive “How Long.” It's a comfortable vibe, familiar but with enough of a unique tone to not sound overly derivative.
You get a story of a man who's lived and loved through some hard times all while hunching over a grill as a chef from Maine to Alaska to California, hungering to pursue music whenever possible and pondering the simple question, asked one more time on the album with “Why Is It So Hard.” A man, who, when he finally seemed to be getting some traction with his music career, had to deal with a family tragedy when his nephew killed his brother, a event referenced in the album's closer, “Heartaches and Pain.” That's about as honest as it gets.
The voice? Wonderful. Rich. And silky with just the right amount of roughness around the edges. Chalres Bradley's pipes are equally adept at issuing a political, moral and soulful call to action (“Golden Rule”) as they are laying out what some in the industry refer to as straight-up baby-makin' joints (“I Believe In Your Love”).
His monstrous voice is backed by The Menahan Street Band, who provide, tight chops and solid arrangements. Yes, it's mostly standard soul fare, but there's enough going on in the various layers to keep you interested. They do get a chance to shine on “Since Our Last Goodbye,” the album's only instrumental cut and a good reason to check out the band's own 2008 debut “Make The Road By Walking.”. It's a slick partnership, and the band does exactly what it's supposed to do: let the singer lead the way and form an honest connection with the listener.
So the only thing missing from the Charles Bradley super soul singer package is a cape, then? Rest easy. Daptone's Gabriel Roth met Bradley when he was performing James Brown routines under the name “Black Velvet,” which means I'm pretty sure that, if needed, Charles has got the capes covered, too.