SXSW 2011: Charles Bradley channels James Brown in a festival highlight


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See Charles Bradley. Do yourself a favor, do me a favor, do him a favor. Pay this man money for his talent. He has earned it. Read his bio: it sounds like Dickens by way of Donny Goines. Murder, poverty, multiple failures and unimaginable setbacks. The sort of pain that can only drive a man to greatness or madness.

Thankfully, Bradley found the former, at the age of 62, with the help of Gabe Roth of Daptone Records. There’s no time for the backstory right now (read his bio, really), but last night at Stubbs, Bradley delivered one of the festival’s great sets. Admittedly, there have been dozens of transcendent sets throughout these last few days. But it’s a safe bet, wagering on the sextaganarian with the slick dance moves, the former James Brown imitator turned ancient awesome soul man. One of the last surviving links to a dead tradition -- breathing and exhaling the DNA of Otis Redding, Brown, and the Rev. Al Green (can he please take Bradley on tour with him?).


This year Bradley released his first record, ‘No Time for Dreaming.’ It’s a brilliant and beautiful work, steeped in the tradition of classic Stax and faithfully re-created by the Menahan Street Band. Don’t dismiss it as revivalism -- the songwriting is stellar, the stories singular to Bradley, and the anguish and poignancy unrivaled. On record and onstage, Bradley is a classic showman. He sells every syllable, dropping to his knees, outstretching his arms, shaking his hips. And that voice, both pleading and plaintive, anguished and extraordinary. Your mother would love it. Your dad will love it. Your grandparents would love it. Bradley did a cover of Neil Young’s ‘Heart of Gold.’ Old Shakey would have loved it too.

Sometimes performances are that special, where words can’t re-create them. Especially when channeled on deadline, with little time for genuine reflection or consideration. So just see Charles Bradley whenever you have the opportunity, and let’s talk about it later.

--Jeff Weiss