Over the bulk of this site’s almost nine-year history, I’ve written quite a bit about JOVM mainstay Charles Bradley. The late Jacksonville, FL-born, Brooklyn-based soul singer/songwriter led a remarkable life, overcoming unimaginable adversity, eventually appearing in two documentaries, Charles Bradley: Soul of America and the Daptone Records live documentary, Living on Soul filmed during the 2014 Daptone Records Soul Revue residency at the legendary Apollo Theater, and four full-length albums, 2011’s No Time For Dreaming, 2013’s Victim of Love, 2016’s Changes, and last year’s posthumously released Black Velvet.
As you may recall, in late 2016, Bradley faced what would be one of the greatest challenges in a lifetime filled with challenges. A stomach cancer diagnosis during the fall forced him to cancel a busy touring schedule to support Changes. Weakened by months of chemotherapy, facing a potentially life-threatening surgery and confronting his own mortality, Bradley stepped into a home recording studio in Queens and spontaneously created “Lonely as You Are.” Featuring a looping piano sequence, shuffling drumming and gently strummed guitars, the track features Bradley’s imitable and achingly soulful vocals speaking and singing lyrics that express his profound loneliness, the tacit awareness of his impending mortality, his hope to be reunited with his mother and grandmother in heaven and his hope to leave something that connects with fans and others once he was gone. While the song was centered around a sparse instrumental arrangement of The Avett Brothers‘ Seth Avett (guitar) and Mike Marsh (drums) and co-producers James Levy and The Avett Brothers and Langhorne Slim‘s Paul Defigilia (bass, piano and organ and co-production), the track manages to be a great example of Bradley’s powerfully earnest soulfulness — and a comforting plea to other lonely souls out there.
In contrast to the tearjerking “Lonely as You Are,” “Lucifer,” the second song from that last recording session is a classic, joyful Charles Bradley love song with a soaring string arrangement; but unlike his previously released material, the song focuses on both the spiritual and physical — of a sustaining love that transcends time and all things. While being a bittersweet track because of his death shortly after the song’s recording, it’s a fitting farewell from one of this generation’s most sincere and heartfelt singer/songwriters.