It's been about two-and-a-half years since my surprise introduction to Mr. Charles Bradley, when he strolled on stage as part of a warm-up set by the Menahan Street Band before Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings at the Barrymore.
I'd seen Bradley's name on the Daptone Records singles discography, going all the way back to the label's first few issues, but hadn't heard him yet at the time. If memory serves, that night he sang the two songs from their then most recent single, "The World (Is Going Up in Flames)" and "Heartaches and Pain," as good a pair of soul tracks as I've heard in recent times from anyone, including the aforementioned Ms. Jones.
A copy of that single went home with me after the show, and left me wishing for a whole album from Bradley and the Menahan Street Band. A little more than two years later my wish was granted with the release of No Time for Dreaming in late January, on Daptone subsidiary
The Daptone operation is guaranteed an adoring audience of fellow genre aficionados simply due to their uncanny knack for whipping up music that sounds as if it could have been beamed straight from the late '60s or early '70s. They've managed to cross over to much wider mainstream audiences because they've also found some singers with enough grit and personality to match the house bands' musical chops.
Charles Bradley, who has been moonlighting as a performer since the 1960s, is more than up to the task. His biography mirrors the story of anyone struggling to make ends meet, in Bradley's case with various jobs as a chef or handyman on both coasts and in Alaska. After losing his last chef job in California, Bradley returned east to be closer to his family in Brooklyn, where Gabriel Roth spotted him performing a James Brown-style revue as "Black Velvet" in local clubs. Roth, aka Daptone producer "Bosco Mann," quickly recruited Bradley for his then-new label venture with fellow traveler Neal Sugarman.
Bradley's been part of the Daptone family ever since, working with a couple different backup bands before hooking up with the Menahan Street Band and producer Thomas Brenneck. Guitarist Brenneck has somewhat quietly been a prime mover at Daptone since joining the label as a member of The Budos Band; he was added to the The Dap-Kings around the time of the second Sharon Jones album, leads the Menahan Street Band and is the man behind the Dunham subsidiary label.
On No Time for Dreaming, Brenneck is a co-writer on all but one track (a cover of an unreleased number by '70s singer Joe Quarterman) with various band members -- and singer Bradley on eight songs. "Writing is new to me because I always was singing some other person's songs," says Bradley via email. "But I write my own lyrics and they come from the heart. Ya know. And it's always good to be singing about the truth, but it's very hard to get through the songs sometimes. So, yes this is all very new to me."
Along with his lyrics, the star of the show is most definitely Charles Bradley's instantly identifiable, spine-melting singing. He's often compared to James Brown, but while Bradley does whip out some Star Time mannerisms (the throat-shredding Brown scream for sure) he's not necessarily that vocally reminiscent of JB otherwise on this new disc. His powerfully emotive style calls to mind deep soul shouters such as Randolph Walker and Roscoe Robinson, or maybe Al Green if he'd gargled with some gravel before a singing date. To mix a few old R&B song metaphors, Bradley's voice is an expressway directly from his heart to you, and a listener able to pick up his vibrations on No Time for Dreaming will be touched.
Charles Bradley returns to Madison for a show at the High Noon Saloon on Tuesday, April 19. This time he'll be performing a full set backed by a mix of members of Menahan and headliners The Budos Band, and has one parting reminder for fans planning to attend the show: "One thing. What's in the heart ... is gonna come out naturally." We'll see if the walls of the High Noon can contain both Bradley's big voice and TBB's storming "Afro-soul." The show will be The Budos Band's first trip to Madison.