Soul music is in the full throes of golden-era revivalism, but Charles Bradley ain’t no studied hipster wannabe. The world has only been aware of the Florida-born, Brooklyn-raised singer since early last year when his debut album, No Time for Dreaming, released. But in style and source, this is straight-up O.G. shit here. Listen to that deep vocal grain and you’ll know. This is the real Mack, forged and worn by time and experience, much of it hard (childhood abandonment, homelessness, poverty, tragedy). And after almost 50 years of grinding it out in obscurity, his dream of a music career finally materialized when Daptone Records honcho Gabriel Roth caught Bradley at a club performing James Brown tributes. Since then, the Daptone syndicate has been the launch pad heâ€”and let’s be honest, the worldâ€”needed. And now the sexagenarian’s a bona fide phenomenon with some serious stars aligning for him. Since emerging, he’s been on an international whirlwind encompassing festival appearances, late-night talk shows and even a documentary about him (Charles Bradley: Soul of America) that debuted at this year’s SXSW.
But everything comes down to the music. And No Time for Dreaming is one thick slab of unpasteurized whole butter. There’s no underplaying the quality and steeze of the classic Southern soul arrangements here: Stax, Muscle Shoals, yeah, baby, it’s all in there. But even they are simply a lush setting for Bradley’s raw, virile fire. And besides horsepower, that voice packs a hugging perfection and patina that can only be attained through time and wear. Taken in total, it feels as if the progressively wayward R&B tendencies of the last half-century never happened. A nice thought indeed.
No doubt, Charles Bradley’s dues are fully paid. However, even that means little if the goods aren’t there. But classic American music is seldom rendered this perfectly.
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