Rarely has the release of new material been so welcomed amidst the backdrop of such horror and violence at home and abroad. The man known endearingly as “The Screaming Eagle of Soul” is back with ‘Changes’, his third studio album, an album which reinforces Charles Bradley’s world weary funk and soul holler as a true tonic of our times.
With long-time producer and co-songwriter Thomas Brenneck again at the helm, Bradley takes us on a musical journey from smoke-filled satin sheeted bedrooms to full blown race riots, such is his capacity to engineer a voice that deviates between Pentecostal preacher (to an already converted public) to that of sugar coated, silver tongued Casanova.
And while previous albums ‘No Time For Dreaming’ and ‘Victim Of Love’ were recorded with Dunham Records house band Menahan Street Band, ‘Changes’ sees Bradley collaborate and expand to perform with various different musicians, including members of Budos Band, the Dap-Kings and Charles’ touring band The Extraordinaires, alongside a number of renowned background vocalists (Sha La Das, Gospel Queens, Saun & Starr).
The result being that, although in many respects rooted in the heyday of 1960s/1970s R&B and soul ala Al Green and Otis Redding, and most importantly, James Brown , ‘Changes’ embodies a more modernist approach and feel, entrenched in familiar themes of suffering, strength and love, as evidenced in both ‘Change For The World’ and ‘Ain’t Gonna Give It Up’.
And with typical zeal and piety, as if kneeling at its altar, Bradley yields to the power of love more than ever on this album in comparison to its predecessors, as the buoyant ‘Things we do for love’, the poetic ‘Crazy for Love’ and the slow burning conclusion of ‘Slow Love’ suggest.
The presence of the aforementioned Godfather of Soul is none the more so visible in the outrageously funky ‘Good To Be Back Home’, a tribute to his homeland as patriotic an anthem as Brown’s own ‘Living in America’, coming hot on the heels of preamble ‘God Bless America’, in which Bradley confesses his love for his nation.
The fantastically broody ballad ‘Nobody But You’ sees whimpering horns wrap around Bradley’s soulful howl, while the gregarious ‘Aint It A Sin’ is a juggernaut of raw energy, backed by background hollers and claps to give it a visceral, almost unrefined feel.
With title track ‘Changes’ we see Bradley truly measure up to the level of the masters of his craft, delivering a cover full of lingering emotion and resonance that it penetrates deep into the soul, rendering the listener utterly in awe of the artist formerly known as James Brown tribute act ‘Black Velvet’. An instant classic, and fitting title to an album that magnetizes, charms and captivates in equal measure against a backdrop of Bradley’s timeless vocal purity the likes of which come along once in a blue moon.