Throughout a significant portion of this site’s 8-plus year history, I’ve written a bit about JOVM mainstay, Charles Bradley, the late, Brooklyn-based soul singer. Now, as you may recall, Bradley led a remarkable life, overcoming unimaginable adversity to achieve success and international acclaim late his life — thanks in part to the release of documentary Charles Bradley: Soul of America, three full-length albums 2011’s No Time For Dreaming, 2013’s Victim of Love and 2016’s Changes, and a powerful, heartfelt live show. Interestingly during his relatively short recording career, Bradley wound up playing a larger-than-life role in pop culture: Bradley was a prominent figure in the Daptone Records live documentary, Living on Soul filmed during the Daptone Records Soul Revue shows back in 2014 at the legendary Apollo Theater; performed on Netflix’s Luke Cage; was the signing voice of Minstrel Krampus on American Dad; and he had tracks featured on a number of films and TV shows, including the title tracks for Netflix’s Big Mouth, HBO’s Barry and more.
And although those successes came late in his life, none of them should be surprising because what drew so many fans, critics and others towards him was the fact that for him, Bradley and felt and understood that the great pain and tribulations of his life were a cry for universal love, brotherhood and empathy. He preached it passionately and constantly — and as many would say, it seemed that he believed that if he loved harder, more passionately, and just more — if we all just loved each other a bit more — we could make the world a much better place. Certainly, in a seemingly dark and cynical world in which humanity is inching towards its annihilation, we could use more Charles Bradleys, more Sharon Joneses, too.
November 5, 2018 would have been Charles Bradley’s 70th birthday and in celebration of the man, his life and his music, Dunham Records will posthumously release his fourth and final album Black Velvet on November 9, 2018. Featuring 10 tracks lovingly curated by his friends, bandmates and family, the album chronologically spans Bradley’s recording career — but instead of a greatest hits-like anthology or a rehashing of say, several different versions of known and beloved songs, the album focuses on deeper, mostly unreleased cuts recorded during the sessions from each of Bradley’s three albums. The album will include highly sought-after and beloved covers including his takes on Nirvana‘s “Stay Away,” Neil Young‘s “Heart of Gold,” Rodriguez‘s “I’ll Slip Away,” and an alternate full-band electric version of “Victim of Love,” among others.
Of course, in many ways, the album documents the friendship and collaboration shared between Bradley and longtime collaborator, producer and co-writer Tommy Brenneck. As Brenneck explains, Black Velvet‘s first single “I Feel A Change” was recorded during the Victim of Love sessions. “Horns and organ were recorded later adding a haunting beauty to the otherwise a cappella intro. The lyrics are 100% Charles. Personal yet abstract. Directly from the heart. He truly loved the expression ‘going through changes’ and this was a few years before we would record our rendition of Sabbath‘s ‘Changes‘ with the Budos. Sadly Charles never got to hear the finished version of this beautiful song.” “I Feel a Change” was classic Charles Bradley — the Screaming Eagle of Soul’s imitable vocals passionately expressing desire, frustration and heartache within a turn of a phrase, pleading in a deeply confessional fashion to you. Of course, Bradley’s vocals are paired with a slow-burning, sensual arrangement that feels eerily spectral yet urgent and necessary.
Interestingly, while searching for material to include on Black Velvet, Brenneck stumbled upon the album’s latest single, having forgotten that it had even existed — although the track was recorded around 2007 during the recording sessions for Bradley’s No Time for Dreaming. Featuring members of the Menahan Street Band, the single is a revealing look into the Bradley’s early sound while being a stomping, two-stepping love song centered around sweet, old-school lyrics and Bradley’s heartfelt vocals. As Brenneck notes, “For some reason I always thought we hadn’t finished the vocal track but, to my surprise, not only was it finished, it was a powerful performance by Charles and the band is on fire to boot… Why it didn’t make No Time For Dreaming? I have no idea.” With every single off the new album, I’m reminded of the fact that although the man may no longer be with us, that his spirit is still vital and with us when he need it the most. Long live Charles Edward Bradley, y’all! Long live Charles Edward Bradley!