Back-stories don’t come much better than Charles Bradley’s: a cook and sometime James Brown impersonator, billing himself as ‘Black Velvet’, Bradley, was finally discovered by Daptone’s Gabriel Roth. The ensuing No Time For Dreaming (2011) and its follow-up, Victim Of Love (2013), were powerful records, propelled by Bradley’s raw, soulful voice & the cries that have led to his nickname, the Screaming Eagle Of Soul. A character such as Bradley can’t rely on that back-story forever – he needs to keep making strong records, such as this, his third album, Changes.
The record takes its title from Bradley’s cover of the Black Sabbath ballad, released as a limited seven-inch, backed with Ain’t It A Sin. Both cuts make it onto this full-length. Changes as a whole continues the psychedelic soul sound of Victim Of Love, seemingly inspired by Curtis Mayfield & ’70s James Brown, with the title track transforming the Sabbath track into a slow burning tour de force that recalls Otis Redding. What’s more, it seems the ‘changes’ Bradley is singing about are societal: the new video for the strutting Change For The World depicts Black Lives Matter protestors, along with Donald Trump.
Bradley opens the album with God Bless America, a wry intro that begins with tinny theatre organ and ends with full-on Elvis grandeur, before an organ drone slides down towards the superlative, sly & funky Good To Be Back Home. Other highlights include the flute-driven ballad Crazy For Your Love, & the low-slung Ain’t Gonna Give It Up, Bradley’s mighty roar bolstered by tremolo fuzz guitar & sizzling backing vocalists.
Though Changes might not signal any huge transformations in Bradley’s music, it’s certainly satisfying & stylish; another album from the ‘screaming eagle’ that’s been worth the long wait.