While the soul world has lost some greats in recent years, Charles Bradley is continuing their tradition of stellar posthumous final albums. Without any sense of compromise, this record is full of the exuberant energy Bradley brought to all his music, and honours his great legacy. Considering Bradley and his band actually take some of their most explorative steps for this release, it hurts even more to know this is their swan song.
While it might seem apt to open this record on a downbeat note, “Can’t Fight The Feeling” sees the late-Bradley at his excited best. With every warm piano note, there’s a sense of hope that feeds into the steady band that the rest of Bradley’s band bring to the recording. Bradley settles into some pumping old-school funk through the harmonies and horns of “Luv Jones.” Driving his song with a little more groove and low-end kick, this track is a dance track first and foremost that we only got from Charles every so often. As Bradley taps into a little more of his gospel side, “I Feel A Change” is just as personal as it is spiritual, but it’s the brass that really sets this song a light. While it’s easy to get too relaxed listening to this track, the fierce uptick in the track’s finale is invigorating and explosive to say the least.
So much of “Slip Away” is made in its unusual rhythms that it transcends many of the soul roots that keep it slow. In this way however, Bradley is able to make a track that welcomes you while still being able to get you moving at a moment’s notice. As the guitars slink around on “Black Velvet” there’s a much rawer growl that develops as the horns cry out with their own pain. Through the many different hooks and particularly sharp band highlights here, it feels like a musical eulogy to the man the band followed for so long. The sense of cool Bradley commands on “Stay Away” is brimming with a certain secret agent charm and his fiery attitude only soars higher on each yowl and drum roll. More than any track on the album, the guitar colours the song so well in its fuzz and tremolo that it creates a mood Bradley mostly avoided.
Perhaps the record’s greatest accomplishment is how little it sounds like any sort of slapped-together posthumous cash-in album, as it truly seems like Bradley and his band had just missed their window to put it out while he was still performing barely a year ago. Much of the record explores new ends of Charles’ sound, with a sense of self-awareness and reflective lyricism such as “Heart of Gold” where he notes his own hunger despite hitting his golden years. “(I Hope You Find) The Good Life” itself becomes one of the most modern-sounding recordings Bradley has put out in some time, where his weird mix of drum machines and percussion create a kind of misty haze. In this he seems to speak out with a relinquished energy to wish the best to his loved ones.
As things start to round out, “Fly Little Girl” sounds like a track ripped out of the past, with his own personality on a “Build Me Up Buttercup” kind of groove. Effortlessly smile-inducing, this track taps into nostalgic excitement without feeling cheap in any way. The more psychedelic wash to the electric version of “Victim of Love” closes things with a sunset feel and some of Bradley’s strongest vocals of the album. As far as send-offs go, this is one to remember.
Words by Owen Maxwell