In his early 60s now, Charles Bradley should have made it big years ago. But it wasn’t until a Daptones label man found him performing James Brown tributes as “Black Velvet” in New York in the past ten years that he got his break. In the studio, Bradley connected with Thomas Brenneck, now his lead guitarist, who encouraged him to create his own songs. Soon enough songs gushed forth to form the 2011 album No Time for Dreaming, which has received quite a bit of acclaim, including from PopMatters. In fact, if it wasn’t for my colleague Eddie Ciminelli’s aside of Bradley in his review of ACL in September, this artist may not have flown across my path until I saw it on some of the now published year-end “best of” lists.
Arriving at the Bowery Ballroom before 10 pm, I found that the show was delayed till about 10:30 but even then it didn’t start for a bit more. But the wait was worth it. Bradley’s backing band took to the stage for two instrumental jams before the man himself took the stage in a black bedazzled jacket. Immediately, the Bowery audience began to groove finding themselves enthralled in the spiritual embrace of soul music (though the balcony was quieter).
Charles Bradley, aka “The Screaming Eagle of Soul”, backed by the much younger Extraordinaires, wailed his soulful tunes under the red lights. Songs included “Heartaches and Pain”, “This Love Ain’t Big Enough for the Two of Us”, a cover of Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold” and two new numbers (from what I thought I heard him say), each of which filled the venue with his soaring vocals.
Bradley wooed and wowed the Bowery Ballroom crowd. But he also exposed his own heart, lyrically, like on “The World (is Going Up in Flames)”, “Lovin’ You, Baby” and, towards the end, “Why is it so Hard”, and also physically—happiness was quite visible as his glowing and welcoming eyes cast their gaze around the venue. He shook hands whenever he got the chance, offered up an “I love you” to New York, and even stepped down from the stage to embrace his believers. With every soulful, and sold-out, performance like this one, Bradley encourages the audience to embrace him too. It is hard not to.
Bradley and the Budos Band are taking the New York stage for a New Year’s Eve performance at the Music Hall of Williamsburg.