Charles Bradley has lived a rough life, and he’s lived a lot more of it than most new artists. I won’t try to paraphrase the biography on his website about the hardships he’s struggled with, but I recommend reading it. Ever since seeing James Brown as a young man, he was instantly moved. So much so that he began performing James Brown songs for most of his life. It wasn’t until meeting Thomas Brenneck from the Budos Band, that something new was starting to happen. Through Brenneck’s encouragement and compositions, and a lot of hard work from both of these gentlemen, Mr. Bradley started putting his own words to original material for the first time.
The result was No Time For Dreaming, and it’s possibly the most exciting thing to happen to soul music in a very long time. When I first heard of Mr. Bradley I was extremely interested. Another incredibly talented person overlooked for so many years, only to catch the eye of the folks at Daptone Records. If this was going to be anything like Sharon Jones, I wanted to hear it immediately! When the opening track, “The World (Is Going Up In Flames)” kicked in, it was clear the music was going to be great. The musicians were tight, the beat was groovy as hell. And then Mr. Bradley started singing, and it took a mere second or two before chills were running down my spine. I got the same thrill as when I heard Otis Redding sing for the first time. The little things that could be considered imperfections: occasional shortness of breath, the voice cracking. These things could only be the result of someone literally singing their heart out.
As showcased on “Why Is It So Hard,” Mr. Bradley (as well as label-mate Sharon Jones) brings back a crucial element to the genre of Soul. Just like blues and country, soul was born as true blue-collar music, written and performed by the working class. This was their way to escape the hardship of life, and you can hear that in the themes as well as the passion with which the music was made. As with any musical genre that becomes popular, glitz and glamour can sometimes take the driver’s seat. Mr. Bradley has indeed lived a blue-collar life, and it’s a reminder of what this music is really about. Furthermore, when he sings of life’s plight, it’s more believable than with most artists. It creates a true connection between the listener, his stories, and the music that ties it all together.
The only moments on this album that might not be necessary are the two instrumental tracks. It’s not that they aren’t fantastic arrangements; they are in fact great songs. His backing band for the album, The Menahan Street Band, has their own record deal, and could easily have put these songs on one of their albums. I just don’t know that they need to be in this collection. It’s pretty forgivable though, considering the absolutely stellar job they’ve done with the rest of the album. Every second of their arrangements and performance couldn’t possibly compliment Mr. Bradley’s vocals any better. Just as No Time For Dreaming showcases one of the best vocal performances in years, this may be one of the most musically impressive albums in just as long.
As I’ve said, things have been tough, especially in recent years for Mr. Bradley. Tragically, he lost his brother in a shooting related death. It may seem odd at first then that the most optimistic song on No Time For Dreaming is about that very incident. As the album’s closer, “Heartaches and Pain” is complex for that reason. The more you understand where this album comes from, what its purpose is, the more you connect with the hopefulness in this track. The entire album was made as a healing process, a way to move on through expression and doing what you love. And what better way to heal? Embrace the tragedies, express the pain, all while looking for the good in life.Charles Bradley - No Time For Dreaming,