Album Review: Charles Bradley’s Victim of Love

Charles Bradley

Victim of Love

Daptone Records

Release Date: May 28, 2013


Track Listing

1.     Strictly Reserved For You

2.     You Put The Flame On It

3.     Let Love Stand A Chance

4.     Victim of Love

5.     Love Bug Blues

6.     Dusty Blue

7.     Confusion

8.     Where Do We Go From Here

9.     Crying In The Chapel

10.  Hurricane

11.  Through The Storm



Charles Bradley –vocals

Thomas Brenneck – guitar
Nick Movshon – bass
Homer Steinweiss – drums
Mike Deller – organ 

Dave Guy – trumpet 

Leon Michels – saxophone


Soul singer Charles Bradley’s extraordinary life reads simultaneously as a biopic and perhaps more importantly, a story on how perseverance even in the face of terrible tragedy and desperate deprivation often paves the way to success. Bradley spent the first eight years of his life with his grandmother in Gainesville, FL when while meeting his biological mother for the first time she told him that she wanted to take him back with her to Brooklyn. As a teenager, his aunt took the young Charles Bradley to the world famous Apollo Theater to see James Brown, and that experience altered the path of his life –- Bradley began mimicking the godfather of funk’s vocal style and stage mannerisms at every chance he could get.

  Sometime later, Bradley ran away from home and spent two years on the street before joining Job Corps, and that eventually led him to working a variety of odd jobs across the country including a lengthy stint as a chef in Maine. While in Maine, someone jokingly told Bradley that he looked a lot like James Brown, and asked him if he could sing; however, Bradley was too shy and too afraid to admit it – but eventually he gained some courage and played a couple of shows with a band. Not quite knowing what else to do, Bradley went out West, hitchhiking across the country, working odd jobs and playing small shows when he could get one – and this went on for the next 20 years of his life.

  In 1996, his mother called him and asked him to come back to Brooklyn, so she could get to know him. But hard times still followed Bradley – while in a hospital, he nearly died after getting a shot of penicillin (to which he was allergic); and tragically, he was awoken by the police arriving to the scene of his brother’s murder, just down the street from his mother’s house. But throughout all of this was his love of music and performing. At the time, Bradley was moonlighting as a James Brown impersonator, under the moniker “Black Velvet” when Daptone Records co-founder Gabriel Roth eventually discovered him. Believing that he discovered something special, Roth introduced him to producer and in-house guitarist Thomas Brenneck, who later invited Bradley to jam with his band. The result wound up being Bradley’s 2011 debut effort, No Time for Dreaming.

   Along with Bradley’s appearance in the 2012 documentary, Soul of America, he’s become something of a national phenomenon. After all, I think that there’s something about triumphing over the most difficult situations that give us hope, and that the simple belief in oneself can overcome all. Certainly, in an era of cynicism, distrust, hopelessness where style over substance prevails and when prepackaged, slickly produced pabulum is force fed upon an unwilling (and perhaps unthinking) public, Charles Bradley’s story and personal struggles can in some fashion embody the messiness that encompasses our own lives: there’s profound failure and loss, joy, love, maybe even at some points a level of redemption, and most of us hold on and find some way to keep pushing on.


But I digress quite a bit. What I can say is that Bradley doesn’t have a conventionally mellifluous voice. Much like James Brown, Otis Redding and Jackie Wilson before him, his voice scratches and burns at the edges – it expresses deeply profound and sincere emotion. When he sings about pain, love or joy, you feel it deep in your own soul. Bradley’s experiences seemingly become yours.

  The album was recorded with Daptone Records’ signature sound in mind. And in fact, you can easily tell that the album was lovingly and painfully recorded on analog equipment. Material that has been recorded to analog and then converted to digital still conveys a warmth and richness that digital doesn’t (and will never) have. There’s a beauty in the subtle imperfections – i.e., hearing the vocalist take a breath in the middle of a phrase, the idiosyncrasies of each instrument and so on – and there’s a tendency for the recording to be scrubbed so clean that the human sense of creating music is scrubbed away. Soul music, and its recent resurgence strongly resists that with every fiber of it’s being …

   Sonically, the album owes a gigantic debt to great soul music of the early 1960s to about 1974 or so – these years would have roughly corresponded to some of Charles Bradley’s formative years as a person, as a music fan and as a vocalist. It sounds warmly familiar – and that’s the whole point. “Strictly Reserved for You” has Bradley howling with a mixture of pain and desire – mainly, the desire to run away, out of the city with his lover.  It’s super smooth, at that. When you hear “You Put A Flame On it” you’ll probably be reminded quite a bit of the Motown era of soul — the Four Tops, the Temptations, Otis Redding, Jackie Wilson and others, thanks to a slick horn line and that incredibly, soulful vocal backed by some great female backing singers.  But it’s honestly one of the sweetest, most sincere love songs I’ve heard this year.  And it’s one of my favorite singles I’ve come across this year. “Confusion” with its psychedelic swirl of sound, use of reverb to slightly distortion and political commentary bears a resemblance to Curtis Mayfield’s “If There’s a Hell Below, We’re All Gonna Go,” but without as much fire and brimstone invective. Instead, Bradley pleads for all of us to start creating a better world – a world in which, there is peace, love, understanding, brotherhood and sisterhood among us all, for the sake of future generations on “Where Do We Go from Here.“ Maybe we should all start listening to him a bit more, huh? And album closer, “Through the Storm” is a humble offering in which Bradley thanks God for giving him the strength to continue on during the most difficult portions of his life, and rewarding him for his persistence. You’d have to have a cold, cynical and distrusting heart not to be moved by Bradley to feel joy and hurt more deeply, and to do a little two-step or the mashed potatoes, just like your folks did back in the day.  Honestly, this album may well be within my top five on my informal best of list.