PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

Charles Bradley: Changes

Charles Bradley is the closest living equivalent to James Brown today. He’s a dynamic performer whose style is purposely reminiscent of the Soul King.

Charles Bradley


Label: Daptone
US Release Date: 2016-04-01

After the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in April 1968, many American urban areas exploded into riots. But not Boston. The story goes that city officials convinced James Brown, who was scheduled to perform that night at Boston Garden, to perform live and on television and urge watchers to remain cool and composed. Brown is often credited with keeping the peace, especially after the white police began forcing his black fans away from the stage. The King of Soul took the microphone, asked the police to step back, and told the crowd to stay calm. Brown’s powerful presence had the desired effect on the whole town.

Charles Bradley is the closest living equivalent to Brown today. He’s a dynamic performer whose style is purposely reminiscent of the Soul King. We live in an age when Black Lives Matter operates as a battle cry rallying against the injustices of racism in contemporary society. Bradley’s no fool. He knows what’s going on. But like Brown, he’s on the side of peace. He opens his new album with the patriotic Irving Berlin hymn “God Bless America” by talking to his listeners over an organ accompanist. He introduces himself and offers a soliloquy:

A brother that came from the hard licks of life that knows that America is my home.

America you’ve been real, honest, hurt, and sweet to me but I wouldn’t change it for the world

Just know that all the pains that I’ve been through it made me strong to stand strong

that knows America represents love for all the Americans in the world

I sing from my heart.

Then he starts to sing the song made famous by Kate Smith. The point is, Bradley understands that while life is hard, real change comes from love. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t feel pain. He notes that while it’s good to be back home in America, sometimes he suffers so much he just has to wail.

But this is not an album of social protest as much as it is the individual instinctual cry of one trying to find his place in the world. The most affecting track on the album is the title tune, a cover of Black Sabbath’s “Changes”. He transforms the song into a slow burning gospel-style number about personal loss. Back in the day, heavy metal bands turned black blues into hard rock crunchers. By reversing the process, Bradley shows the commonality of human experience. Everybody hurts, as R.E.M. famously noted.

Bradley may be a powerful singer, but he can also be subtle. His “Slow Love” smolders because the singer knows when to hold back as well as let go. There are many magical moments, too, like on the gentle “Nobody But You”, where he lets the horns take an instrumental break right out of Seals and Crofts “Summer Breeze” to show his deep love for the gentle love of his life.

Times are tough, but we have each other. We should let our good feelings conquer the negative ones. That’s the only way to make positive changes in the world. Bradley sings of his aches and pleasures with such conviction that he makes one believe this is possible.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.


Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.


Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.


Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.


Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.


The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.


​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.


The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.


Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.


How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.


Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.


CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.


Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.


While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.