Album review: Charles Bradley – “No Time for Dreaming”

Originally published on MadeLoud, Jan 30, 2011 

Any musical revival movement has to allow for varying degrees of authenticity. The current neo-soul revival, for instance, needed folks like Amy Winehouse and Solange Knowles to ease in neophytes with a blend of old- and new-school sensibilities. Thus reassured, young audiences could feel more comfortable moving on to more straight-up traditionalists like Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, not to mention the ‘60s and ‘70s artists who were their inspirations. And now that music fans have a hearty helping of Dap under their belts, they might just be ready to delve into Charles Bradley.

Listeners coming into No Time for Dreaming cold might never suspect that this is a 2011 release. The 62-year-old Bradley’s shockingly overdue debut album sounds every inch like one of those forgotten classics from the early ‘70s that gets reissued only after a groundswell of crate-digger buzz. Released on the Dunham label, an imprint of the Sharon Jones-starring Daptone Records, No Time for Dreaming plucks former chef and handyman Bradley from decades of obscurity and gives him a vehicle that by all rights should make him a star.

Bradley’s breathtaking vocal command is evident from the get-go. On the ice-cold opener “The World (Is Going Up in Flames)” he’s equal parts James Brown rasp and Syl Johnson smoothness, while the seductive “The Telephone Song” finds him sliding seamlessly into harder-edged Marvin Gaye territory. The impeccable Menahan Street Band matches him shift for shift, tweaking their sound subtly from the JBs-style proto-funk of the title track to the Staxx soul of “Heartaches and Pain” to the Booker T groove of “Since Our Last Goodbye,” all with just a hint of Afrobeat rhythm mixed in.

Revival records sometimes get written off as novelty acts for the nostalgia set, but No Time for Dreaming is simply too strong to fall into that trap. Sure, a song like the aching “Lovin’ You, Baby” calls to mind a lost Otis Redding ballad, but Charles Bradley is too adept to lean on cheap mimickery. These songs are distinctly his, and they sound phenomenal no matter the era. It’s obvious that he spent a good chunk of the last five decades studying and absorbing the greats of the genre (James Brown in particular) but he clearly respects those legends too much to simply regurgitate their style. Big ups to the folks at Daptone for recognizing a diamond in the rough and giving him the chance to make one of surefire best albums of 2011.

Recommended Tracks: “The World (Is Going Up in Flames),” “I Believe in Your Love,” “No Time For Dreaming”

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