Changes opens with an earnest statement from Charles Bradley himself, an honest declaration of his love for America and the opportunities he has been given over his long and underrated career. “God Bless America” comes to a close on a dissonant note, but then bleeds with American pride into his official return to the greater musical conscious, signed with Bradley’s signature ‘Screaming Eagle’ yelp on “Good To Be Back Home.” When he sings “it’s good to be back home, the land where I was born,” both the horn section and the fans rejoice, for it is indeed refreshing to have him and more of his powerful music back.
This album uses a lot of the same classic R&B, Soul & Funk tropes, like yearning for real love and dealing with the hardships that life throws at human beings. But many of the songs still sound new and exciting with the help of his backing band, Menahan Street Band. “Things We Do For Love”, a beautifully crafted modern soul song, is a perfect example of this. The centerpiece of the record and the first single is a cover of Black Sabbath’s “Changes,” which sounds strange, but it is probably the quietest and most moving track from the legendary hard rock band’s catalog. The single was accompanied by a moving picture music video of Charles Bradley experiencing intense emotions with heart-wrenching facial expressions. By the end of this powerful record, I would find myself going through the same emotions (and making the same faces).
Vintage R&B and Soul has seen a revival lately, with youngster Leon Bridges putting out his debut on Columbia Records recently, an album that could fit in with some of the classic Sam Cooke records from the 50s and 60s. Bradley’s screams recall Otis Redding’s famous gravelly voice, while there are incredible funk grooves throughout that would have seriously made a splash in the Motown golden era. Of course, the only difference between Bradley and these newbies is that he grew up watching these legendary performers as they were carving a path through the Apollo Theater and the Chitlin’ Circuit. Now we have Mr. Bradley and his extraordinaires adding to the tradition.
Bradley was a neglected performer for decades before he was discovered and signed to Daptone Records (Fun fact: He performed as a James Brown impersonator, which really becomes evident on the funky “Ain’t It A Sin,” my favorite track on this record). In a way, his career path is very similar to the stories of the earliest black performers who went unnoticed and unappreciated but soon gained the respect they warranted for their groundbreaking music.
Bradley is finally breaking through and getting his well-deserved recognition.
Soul | Dunham Records