Charles Bradley, Changes Review
Like a time capsule buried amidst the peak of the ′70s soul and funk scene, 67-year-old Charles Bradley only emerged into the public eye within this past decade after years of low-level gigs. With all the struggles he had to go through to get where he is today, it makes you wonder if his powerful and weathered voice is the product of that journey.
Listening to Changes—Bradley’s third and arguably most solid studio album yet—those six decades of struggle before his eventual triumph allow the singer to boomingly proclaim emotional highs and lows so extreme, you can’t help but feel this soul.
Everything’s a vessel for the real star of the album: Bradley’s voice, which screeches and yelps with enough gusto to turn James Brown’s head, before rumbling and crooning out blues that could make B.B. King shed a tear. His lyrics, often about the cruel mistress that is love, can veer into cliché, but Bradley delivers them with enough genuine feeling to make us see the constant truths in old ideas.
Perhaps the best example of Bradley breathing (and pleading) fresh emotions into old lyrics is the title track, his rendition of Black Sabbath’s “Changes.” The chorus washes over you, a simple chanting of “I’m going through changes,” yet Bradley’s voice tells so much more hurt and longing in the subtext. The music video recognizes this fact too—it features nothing but a close up of Bradley’s face as he reacts to his own song. Trust me, that’s all you need to see.
...each of the eleven tracks on Changes feel strong and diverse enough to give the album a “Greatest Hits” feeling.
It would be a disservice to overlook the backing instrumentals that fill out the sound, provided by the Menahan Street Band, The Budos Band, and occasionally Naomi Shelton & the Gospel Queens. “Changes” and the sunny “Nobody But You” are propelled by a blaring horn section; “Ain’t Gonna Give It Up” and “Things We Do For Love” roll into a deep, funky groove; the spunky, guitar riff-led “Ain’t It a Sin” keeps the energy of the album flowing at the half-way point. It all complements Bradley nicely, and you never get the sense that either he or the backing band is struggling to steal any airtime.
Though never “new” sounding, each of the eleven tracks on Changes feel strong and diverse enough to give the album a “Greatest Hits” feeling. Perhaps Charles Bradley’s life story— a nostalgic love letter to a faded genre—is what really makes him stand out.
It’ll be interesting to see how the perception of Bradley’s work ripens in the coming decades. But for the time being, there’s a lot to love about Bradley’s persona, his beautifully-pained voice, and his support from Daptone Records. With Changes, all of these elements come together to create the perfect vehicle for Charles Bradley’s nostalgia, passion, and raw soul.