Photo credit: Lindsay Davis
Even in death, Charles Bradley cannot be stopped.
Thirteen months ago, the world of music was shaken to its core after learning the Screamin’ Eagle of Soul, Charles Bradley, had lost his longtime fight against stomach and liver cancer. The 68-year-old performer had spent most of 2017 on the road, as well as the majority of the years prior, which made his departure from the mortal coil that much more impactful. For the first time in as long as anyone could remember, there was now a void in the world of soul music, and to this day no one has been able to fill the hole left by Bradley’s absence.
I was fortunate enough to catch one of Bradley’s final festival performances, which took place on a hot July afternoon at Forecastle in Louisville, KY. The aging singer dressed in a red jumpsuit that was unzipped nearly to his navel, revealing a large pendant featuring a sphinx from one of his numerous necklaces. His band was much younger than him, but their energy paled in comparison to the man standing at the center of the stage. Bradley moved and grooved his way around the space with a youthful vigor that defied reason and entranced the audience for nearly an hour, but it was the empathy and sorrow conveyed in his voice that struck the most significant chord with onlookers. It was the same compelling voice you heard on his records, deeply melancholic, yet somehow still hopeful. He spoke rarely, but when he did he offered encouragement, asking everyone to be a bit more considerate of others because we know not what anyone else may be going through at any given moment.
In a way, that idea of being understanding even when it’s hard is what defined Charles Bradley. His music stemmed from a place of authentic heartache that resonated deep within the souls of anyone who was fortunate to hear it. You might not have understood what he was going through or had experienced in life, but you knew the feelings he sang about. More importantly, you found hope in hearing them expressed through his music because, in a way, that made it okay to talk about them yourself. You were not alone when Charles Bradley sang. No one was.
On November 9, Daptone Records will release Black Velvet, Bradley’s fourth and final studio album. The record is being promoted as a work that spans his career, but the late singer’s team does not want you to consider it a greatest hits release. Instead, the recordings are “a profound exploration through the less-traveled corners of the soulful universe that Charles and his longtime producer, co-writer and friend Tommy “TNT” Brenneck created in the studio together over their decade-long partnership.”
Three new songs are included in the upcoming release, including “I Feel A Change” (released in September), as well as the newly released “Can’t Fight The Feeling.” You can stream the latest posthumous single below:
While “I Feel A Change” showcases the moody, melancholy sounds that Bradley was known for, it’s “Can’t Fight The Feeling” that feels most likely to win over anyone who has yet to be converted to the legendary singer’s timeless catalog. Opening with a big “Oh” from the man himself, the track immediately syncs up with your soul, delivering a groove that feels impossible to resist. As the music calls you to grab someone close and hit the dance floor Bradley croons about a love you cannot deny. “We’ve got a sure thing together,” he sings, “Let’s work it out.”
As the track progress, Bradley delivers a line that simplifies the often complicated world of love. “If I want you and you want me,” he utters before the hook, “tell me, baby, what do we got to lose?”
Any pessimist has an answer to that question, though it would be one that Bradley would encourage us to ignore. Those who have been hurt by love in the past could say there is a lot of risks involved in taking a chance on someone, and in putting yourself out there, but if Charles Bradley was an ambassador for anything in his life it was the idea that we cannot let a fear of pain stop us from living. There is always a risk that a romance won’t last forever, but Bradley understood that the reward was worth the risk. He knew that giving the best parts of yourself to someone else for the chance to feel that electrifying sensation of love coursing throughout your veins for an eternity was worth whatever temporary pain might come as a result. Heartache, for him, was an essential building block on the path toward having the life most claim to want.
As the release of Black Velvet draws near it feels only fitting that we heed his advice. In a time when the world feels increasingly hateful and bleak it is more important than ever to seek out the good in all aspect of life. We have to accept the fact that we might get hurt in order to discover the joys that are possible. It may take several years or even decades to get it right, but when we find someone to share our lives with there is a feeling that no possession or physical location can deliver. Charles Bradley sought that kind of connection throughout his life, and in doing so found a way to relate to the world through songs of times it didn’t work out as he had hoped. Still, his search for love continued, and now it is on us to do the same in our individual lives.