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Robert Bradley and Blackwater Surprise: Still Lovin' You

Jason MacNeil

Robert Bradley's Blackwater Surprise

Still Lovin' You

Label: Vanguard
US Release Date: 2003-11-11
UK Release Date: Available as import

Robert Bradley parted company with his original Blackwater Surprise a few years back, but that doesn't mean the funky gospel rock and roll show is gone by the wayside. Backed by new member and still brimming with that '60s Sam and Dave soul revival flavor, Bradley is back with another fine record that the blind singer should be mighty proud of. But it might not be the decade he wants to hear. "I'm trying to get back to the old 1975 vibe. A little country in it, but mostly R&B with a rock flavor," he says in the press kit. And he sounds exactly like that, minus the static of an LP, on the lead-in "All I Wanna Do". Sounding a bit rough around the edges but soulful to a fault, the music seems to fit perfectly with the Al Green slow dance romance feeling. "Just like Romeo loved Juliet / There's never been a love better yet", he sings.

Bradley never goes over the top vocally the way some soul singers are too often guilty of. Instead, he gives each performance enough sizzle to make it work. The album, dedicated to Marjorie Falks, then kicks into higher gear with a cover of Sam and Dave's staple "I Thank You". Moving into a different gear but still keeping it together, Bradley slows the song down just a bit and adds a pile of funk courtesy of guitarists Matthew Ruffino and Russ Epker. By the middle portion, all members are on board, but Bradley is still front and center. If there's one knock on the song, it might be the fact it comes a tad too early on the tracklisting. The result is the title track losing some of its luster. Again dating back to the mid-'70s radio-friendly pop, Bradley gives a solid performance but allows Blackwater Surprise to carry most of the tune. The fact that it fades out far too abruptly also is another strike against it.

Nonetheless, it doesn't stop Bradley from giving his best on the best song of the record, the high school slow dance emanating from "When You Love Something". Reaching just enough without getting too preachy, Bradley gives the song a sway that instantly dates back to Percy Sledge's "When a Man Loves a Woman". Keyboardist Randy Sly and bass player Ryan Pardington shine on this number before a sax makes an appearance. The Southern soul is never far away from the record, but comes to the fore on "Pretender", mixing just a bit of the gospel keyboards with the soul rhythms. It's a track that is uplifting and melancholic all at once. "Sometimes I wonder if the blues will still soothe my soul?" Bradley asks before the great chorus chimes in. Not even the progressive-rock Floydian keyboards can veer the song towards a less than perfect direction. It should make for a great set closer live!

"Anna" is more Bradley than perhaps you want to hear. Making his debut on piano, the simplicity of the song seems to detract from the lyrics. It also sounds like it isn't about to go anywhere fast, and the second verse only gives that idea more credence. While not exactly filler material, it's a track best left either off the album or the final of ten tracks offered. And Bradley doesn't know when to let a bad thing go, despite a sincere conclusion. It makes "Virginia" all the better, an acoustic-guitar strumming along leisurely while an sound permeates the song. The twang of the guitar is the perfect complement as Bradley settles into this one quickly as female harmonies are thrown in. "Don't Take Your Love Away" has a certain Otis Redding groove to it while a slide guitar accentuates the lyrics. Although Bradley sounds like he's crying on the first verse, he gets better as he goes along with the minimal piano chords. The ditty is a slow builder also, perfect for the closing refrain.

The last two songs aren't giving anything less than what has been given so far, with "Work It Out" being a great soul-heavy song that makes you want to sway or get some semblance of mojo working. This is a great album from one of the latest bloomers in the history of soul!

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