It’s not every day a senior citizen releases a debut album. That day finally came for 62 year-old Charles Bradley in January, when his soulful No Time For Dreaming dropped on Daptone Records. What took him so long? Bradley was busy living a hard life, making ends meet by preparing meat and other culinary creations in kitchens all over the country. The majority of his childhood was spent in the hood, living on the streets of Brooklyn. Fortunately, Job Corps offered Bradley a blue collar window of opportunity—and a way out.
Bradley has the perfect face for singing the blues. The anguish of his life is written all over it long before a single note escapes his larynx. There is no suspension of disbelief necessary, as might be the case with a younger, less physically weathered vocalist like Adele. In the soul man introduction tradition of James Brown and others, a member of Bradley’s backing group—The Menahan Street Band—always announces his entrance with appropriate fanfare as “The Screaming Eagle of Soul.” There are two curious things about that title. First, Bradley doesn’t exactly “scream,” per se. The closest I noticed him get to wailing last night at The Bluebird was a sort of quiet cry in the midst of a slower number, technically a “glottal fry,” where the folds of the vocal chords are forced together, but not nearly as ear-splitting as, say, a screamo frontman’s. Second, Bradley often gestures like he’s flapping his wings and flying in between songs or lyrics. Because Bradley hasn’t been performing his entire life, he’s got a slightly limited bag of showman tricks (though not in the hip department), so to speak, but this is easily the most entertaining. Which came first, I wonder, the eagle handle or the eagle act? Regardless, fans love Bradley and he absolutely loves them back. Covering Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold” is fitting. Sure, many musicians claim to adore their audience, but how many actually come out into the crowd afterward and prove it with bona fide embraces? If there was a leper in attendance, he probably could’ve been cured.
Did I mention Bradley wore a sparkly, sheer cape for the encore? ‘Cause he did.
George Peele is an alien musician. He is also Music Features Editor for 303’s print edition.