When Charles Bradley released the ‘Changes’ single back in December, you could almost hear the joyous fans screaming as loud as the eagle of soul himself. The big man had been cooking up something all this time, and teased us with his ardent Black Sabbath cover.
Such a fantastic cover was idyllic for generating hype for the eagerly anticipated new album, also titled ‘Changes‘. When looking at the lyrics to the original song, one almost thinks “how the hell was this not covered before?!” It translates so effortlessly into a bluesy, soul ballad; artists of similar genres are probably kicking themselves for not thinking of it first.
With a very clear set of stylistic influences, Charles Bradley is the closest living thing to a three way-hybrid between James Brown, Otis Redding and Marvin Gaye. Bradley is like a musical science experiment gone so right, he combines the deadliest characteristics of the pioneers of his craft; much like the Androgynous Rex from Jurassic World. Either way, we’re glad this Funkasaurus-rex (sorry) has come out of his hiatus to wow us once again.
‘Good to be Back Home’ marks the return of the godfather of groove once again. Accompanied with an almost regal fanfare, this grand duke of soul is making a clear statement; he’s back and he’s accompanied by his subjects: style and finesse. We get a sense on this track that this is a more mature Bradley. He openly states he has toured the world, gained perspective, and returned invigorated, ready to spread the good news like a prophet returning from a great pilgrimage. Albums of the past had a tendency to portray Bradley as a man who had been so hard done by, but this record conveys a man much more empowered, not prepared to take any bull.
The opening track ‘God Bless America‘ could easily be titled ‘When a Man Loves his Country’ as it sounds pretty similar to a Percy Sledge song. Although many of us on this side of the pond may not be used to being as gushy and patriotic as our trans-Atlantic brethren, you can’t help but share a certain sense of national pride upon hearing this track. Maybe it’s about time you pick up that phone and told your country you love it.
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‘Change For The World‘ serves to be the most prophetic song that Bradley has produced to date. He makes an appeal to the world’s sense of humanity to try and change mankind for the better. He subtly touches on issues of race and religious persecution through an epic sounding instrumental arrangement. Although sounding a little preachy, it still manages to really get in your chest.
There’s the usual subject matter of heart-ache and unrequited love on tracks like ‘Things we do for Love‘ and ‘Crazy for Your Love’ which tend to feel a little threadbare, particularly in the genre of soul. These tracks would be easily dismissible, if not for Bradley’s sterling rhythm and horn section keeping everything tighter than a hangman’s knot.
Bradley’s backing band – a mixture of The Menahan Street Band and Bradley’s own touring group The Extraordinaires – always seems to keep things so effortlessly interesting. The horn section is always hitting the last note you would expect, yet it’s always the right one. There are a couple of new additions to the band’s outfit and changes to their playing style on this album; some of which include the use of backing vocalists and some really intriguing lead guitar sections. ‘Ain’t it a Sin‘ features a guitar track vaguely reminiscent of the Wilko Johnson playing style. Bradley’s vocal arrangement keeps perfect tempo on ‘You think I Don’t Know’ showing how in sync Bradley and his band truly are, the mark of a great front-man and a great band.
Virtuoso solo vocalists commonly run the risk of overshadowing the rest of the musical outfit. But Bradley and his rhythm section have such magical chemistry with one another; they never come close to this pit fall. Bradley’s voice often commands such attention that the band has clearly had to step up their game, and that they have.
Charles Bradley largely sticks to the same formula, but it’s a winning formula. There’s nothing too ground-breaking on this album, but we wouldn’t expect that from him. In a world where everything seems to be dictated by extravagance, Bradley’s ‘Changes‘ is a complete reversion. Although a very polished and quite a highly produced piece of work, there are no 10 minute guitar solos, no huge instrumental breakdowns and no trippy, psychedelic interludes. Instead ‘Changes‘ focuses on pure energy, delivery and showmanship with a hint of 60’s & 70’s nostalgia to power through every track. ‘Changes‘ is definitely something for people who want to hear something a little more familiar, but ultimately still relevant.
‘Changes’ is out now via Daptone Recordings.
This Charles Bradley article was written by Kevin Browne, a GIGsoup contributor. Edited by Adam Skirving. Photo by Shayan Asgharnia.