When we last left Charles Bradley (exactly a year ago this month), the Florida-born, former cook/James Brown impersonator had just attended Austins South by Southwest Festival. He rocked the place when he first performed there in 2011. He then went on to receive accolades the following year when the documentary Charles Bradley: Soul of America was screened three times at the festival.
This year, he returned to the festival that keeps giving him love. He performed as part of the Super Soul Revue, a showcase that featured him and other artists from his label, the Brooklyn-based Daptone Records, including Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, the Budos Band and Menahan Street Band. Bradley couldnt be happier being part of such a soulful roster.
These guys, theyre like one big family, says Bradley, on the phone from Brooklyn. For him, doing the revue was just another unforgettable event in an exceptional couple of years. From one moment to another moment, things kept on happening.
Its also on stage where Bradley, now 64, does his best work. Often billed as the Screaming Eagle of Soul, Bradley, whos been known to hop off stage and interact with audiences while hes performing, makes sure his audiences are touched both emotionally and physically.
The first time I saw James Brown, I was way in the back, he remembers. And I wanted to see the artist so closely, I couldnt do it. So thats one of the reasons I like going into the public. I go offstage and show the people who I am as a real person.
Its also when he was on tour last year, performing and promoting his 2011 debut No Time for Dreaming, that he began working on his latest album, Victim of Love.
Released last week, Victim has Bradley continuing to dish out emotional, throwback soul. He conceived many of the albums tracks while jamming with guitarist/producer Tom Brenneck during show rehearsals.
Tom would start playing a new lick that I liked on the guitar, he says. And I would tell Tom, What is that? I like that! What is that? Id say, Remember that! Remember that! because lyrics started coming into my head. And Id hear it and then Id get the microphone and Id start to sing. And then Tom would get the tape recorder and start taping some of it.
Bradley is looking forward to wowing more people when he follows in the footsteps of his idol, the Godfather of Soul, and performs at Harlems legendary Apollo Theater in May. While he doesnt know exactly what hell do for the certain-to-be-electrifying performance, he does know hell continue to let audiences know hes right there with them.
I go out into the audience and look into their faces, he says.
I can see some experiences Ive been through that theyre going through, and it kinda hurts. The reason I go out into the audience is to let them know that its all right. Ive experienced that, and I let them know dont give up on your dreams. I know its hard right now, but dont give up.