Retro soul singer Charles Bradley’s hard luck/good luck story is so unlikely and compelling that it has been the subject of a documentary film. The well-traveled Brooklyn native released his first full-length in 2011, at the age of 62. He grew up in the streets and the projects and has spent time in Maine, Alaska and California before returning to New York, all the while plying his twin trades as a cook and as a gutsy soul singer, inspired by a James Brown performance at the Apollo in 1962.
Bradley fans simply can’t stop gushing about the throaty, raw grit of his voice and its opulence of genuine emotion, its direct tapping of autobiographical pain, passion and hope. The authenticity of his emotion and his hardscrabble character are undeniable, but what is so striking about Bradley’s 2013 release Victim of Love is not so much its raw power as its studious, hermetically retro musical sophistication. Bradley was discovered by and still records on Daptone, a label whose denial of the post-1973 world is so 360-degrees and airtight, it would qualify for an entry in the DSM-5 did it not produce so much wonderful and necessary music.
The arrangements on Victim of Love – one after the next – are marvels of musical imagination and of period reconstruction. Against a backdrop of ‘70s funk turbulence, psychedelia, elegant grooving and uptown, classy horn and string charts, Bradley shifts his focus from the personal to the social and back again. Nothing in the lyrics, in the performances by the Menahan Street Band or in the brilliant production of co-writer Thomas Brenneck would make you think that Nixon wasn’t still in office, except for one small incongruity: The songs sound like certified soul classics, but you don’t remember them.
A Mountain Jam veteran well-acquainted with the charmed hills of Woodstock, Charles Bradley and His Extraordinaires perform at the Bearsville Theater in Woodstock on Friday, January 24 at 9 p.m. Tickets cost $25, $40 and $48. The Bearsville Theater is located at 291 Tinker Street in Woodstock. For more information, call (845) 679-4406 or visit www.bearsvilletheater.com.
Charles Bradley, Friday, January 24, 9 p.m., $25/$40/$48, Bearsville Theater, 291 Tinker Street, Woodstock; (845) 679-4406, www.bearsvilletheater.com.