Charles Bradley ‘Black Velvet’ LP/CD/DIG (Dunham) 5/5

The tragedy that was Charles Bradley briefly came and then he was gone, hopefully to a better place. His life was a serious struggle on a number of fronts, but left us with some of the finest black music that has ever surfaced across the pond. This album has been put together by friends, family and the folks at Daptone, there are a number of unreleased tracks, a couple of 45s and a couple that surfaced on EPs. An album that stands its own ground and a very welcome addition to his catalogue even if you have the 45s and the EPs it’s still an essential purchase. Of course ‘Black Velvet’ is his Monica used when he was performing his James Brown review prior to breaking through in his own right.

There are some wonderful first timers for me, take ‘Can’t Fight the Feeling’, recorded during the “No time for dreaming” sessions – how this sumptuous dancer didn’t make the final cut is beyond me, all the Bradley/Dunham traits are there, thumping bass, spitting horns, dominate percussion and of course those trademark vocals; destined to be a big tune over the coming years. The deepest of the deep, ‘I Feel a Change’, is a haunting deep soul opus and once again how this didn’t make “Victim of love”, well, you can only shake your head in sheer wonder. Deep soul has been my major ‘chase’ for 50 plus years, I was collecting that sound before it had that tagline, but Bradley has given us a master – class in the genre. The wonderful southern sounding ‘Fly Little Girl’, with its rolling tempo, so so easy to dance too, this never made the final selection for the “Changes” album, it’s growing in stature daily here. Ok so you’ll know ‘Luv Jones’ which surfaced as Daptone 45 1080, ‘Stay Away’ Daptone 45 1065, his cover of Neil Diamond’s ‘Heart of Gold’ is unrecognisable, he’s turned a pretty weak pop song into a tour de force, which came our way as Daptone 45 1059. There’s another deep opus on here, the electric version of ‘Victim of Love’, which surfaced as Daptone EP 1204, featuring the wonderful Sha La Das. The other EP track on here is the slow mournful ‘I Hope You Find the Good Life’ Daptone 1204, which saunters along as if it’s got nowhere to go, but it really is another essential Bradley cut. ‘Black Velvet’ is an instrumental performed by the Menahan Street Band, who have supplied us with some fine sides in their own right, background vocals are provided by a whose who of modern-day vocalists; The Gospel Queens: Edna Johnson, Bobbie Jean Gant Cynthia Langston, Kristine Johnson Ashby, The Sha La Das, ill, Will and Paul Schalda. There are too many musicians to mention but if like me you have everything from the Truth and Soul, Timmion, Daptone and Dunham stables then you will be familiar with them all. A simply wonderful album that is getting serious turntable time here, available in several formats, I chose the black vinyl copy. Take your pick but be sure you put this on your shelves.

Brian Goucher