Review Summary: In a world so cruel, Charles Bradley still has soul.
Charles Bradley is a man. Born in 1948, he soon moved to Brooklyn, New York and it was there he spent most of his childhood living on the streets. In 1962 Bradley witnessed an event that would forever shape his life: he saw James Brown live at The Apollo. It was from this point on he knew exactly what he was destined to do. With this inspiration he would leave the streets of Brooklyn and make a name for himself. Over the next several decades, he found himself traveling across the country; from Maine to Alaska and eventually to California. He worked as a chef during his days, picking up gigs when he could. It wasn’t until he was about to make a down payment on his first house that he was laid-off from his job of 17 years. At this point he was forced to reflect on where his priorities were. Ultimately he decided to move back east to be with his family in Brooklyn.
Home again in Brooklyn, he began to make appearances in local clubs. He performed his James Brown routines under the alter ego “Black Velvet”. Finally, at the age of 51, he was doing what he truly wanted to do. Yet, as soon as things were finally going his way, tragedy struck. Bradley was greeted with the devastating news that his brother had been shot and killed. Life became bleak once again. He turned to his only outlet, the microphone. While singing his heart out at the Tarheel Lounge in Bedstuy, Gabriel Roth of Daptone Records was listening. Roth recognized his god-given talent and invited him to the record family. Once he was a part of the family, he was introduced to guitarist and songwriter Thomas Brenneck. They struck a chord and became friends. Bradley confided his life story in Brenneck; it was from there that they crafted an album with the hopes that it captured the essence of Charles Bradley.
To look at “No Time For Dreaming” and call it an album is simply an understatement. In reality, it is a testament for the life and times of Mr. Charles Bradley. Some credit should be given to Thomas Brenneck because without his devotion to the sounds of soul, this album could have been so much less. Every melodic chord, every offbeat funky riff, every horn, every piano note are meticulously crafted. You couldn’t ask for a soundtrack more suiting to back the story of Charles Bradley. Every single sound fits the mood. From the slow twirling horns and mellow guitar in “Lovin You, Baby” to the gospel backup vocals and busy bass lines in “No Time For Dreaming”, the aura is pure, unedited soul-funk. Ultimately it isn’t the instrumentals that make this album great though, it’s the voice of Charles Bradley.
Bradley's voice, it’s bluesy and gritty yet soulful and funky. And he’s got that scream, oh that scream; a yell which is much like that of James Brown. He is a man that has been through some hard times. He spent his whole life trying to make it and he spills it all out in the track “Why is it So Hard?”. As he sings the chorus “Why is it so hard to make it in America?” his voice wails, as if he is on the verge of breaking down. He reveals his softer side on the track “Lovin You, Baby” when he tenderly proclaims “When your kissing me baby, oooh, it feels so real”. Every soothing note he sings just warms each beat of your heart. All his trials and tribulations erupt together on the last track “Heartaches and Pain”. Life is hard, and we feel it in his voice, yet the track feels oddly optimistic about it all.
Soul is a music that is rooted deep within. Sure, there is the superficial explanation of what soul is; it simply being the combination of gospel with rhythm and blues. But to leave it at that does the genre no justice, it is so much more. Really soul is a way to express all those feelings bottled within. A musical representation of everything that made you who you are; all the experiences, good and bad, that define you. You project all the happiness, pain and regret of your life into your voice. The microphone becomes your only friend as you spill everything you have into it. As a listener, these sound waves carrying the voice, the soul of the singer, reverberate within us. Good soul music is truly a profound experience, something that can shape the way we feel; music that can make us feel the way the singer does.
“No Time For Dreaming” is Charles Bradley; every part of him is fused in the album. A man, all the experiences that molded who he is today, put into song. His voice represents his life and the instruments are the environment that surrounds him. You hear all the pain and joy; you feel everything that he does. His voice pierces right through you, evoking emotions at your very core. “No Time For Dreaming” is manifestation of Charles Bradley’s heart and soul, a sight which couldn’t be more beautiful.