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Charles Bradley | Black Velvet

A fine, fitting farewell to the Screaming Eagle of Soul.

“The world I live in, it’s painful. It hurts. In a word: It’s bittersweet.” Charles Bradley admitted that to me about 15 months before he died of cancer in 2017 at the age of 68. And he wasn’t kidding; his life included enough death, demons and assorted personal hardship that I could spend the rest of this review simply recounting it all. But I suspect the self-proclaimed Screaming Eagle of Soul wouldn’t want that. Because even though he never forgot the sadness in his life, he remained grateful for the success his later years had brought him, optimistic for his own future and determined to do whatever he could to improve the world with his music and influence. That range of seemingly conflicting emotion is what defined the three albums he put out during his too-short recording career. So of course, it’s also the guiding force behind Black Velvet, a posthumous collection of leftover recordings from those albums. Titled after the name he used during his time as a James Brown impersonator, the 10-song set moves from upbeat retro-funk and R&B groovers like Can’t Fight the Feeling and Luv Jones to soul stirrers like I Feel a Change and Slip Away. And as always, there are the left-field rock covers that became part of Bradley’s signature — in this case, a low-rolling, guitar-spiked revamp of Nirvana‘s Stay Away and a horn-driven R&B reinvention of Neil Young‘s Heart of Gold (along with a couple of verses of The Way We Were inserted into another cut). They remind me of something else he said when I asked him what he looked for in a cover song: “They gotta have pain. They gotta have joy. They gotta have hurt. They gotta have love.” They did and they do — just like everything else he sang in his life. And like every other track on this fine, fitting farewell. In a word: It’s bittersweet.

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