SIFF “Face The Music” Preview: Charles Bradley: Soul of America

Preview by Masa

Charles Bradley: Soul of America
Directed by Poull Brien
(USA, 2012, 75 minutes)

Festival Screening:
June 6, 2012 9:15 PM @ AMC Pacific Place 11

Charles Bradley: Soul of America is the story of one man who never gave up on his dreams, and after sixty years of struggles and hardships, made them a reality. Charles Bradley, a 62 year-old soul singer from Brooklyn, tried his best to walk the straight line every day. He hoped to support himself and his mother by making music. In fact, he has dedicated so much of his life to take care of his mother, he doesn’t know how to be with someone else. He acknowledges that he is thankful for what he has, but outside of his room, violence and danger waits for anyone who lives in the projects. He has survived homelessness, the loss of his brother, constant poverty, and a near death experience. But when he was down, it was a song from the jukebox box that helped him to get back up.

Aside from Bradley, I can’t think of any 62 year-old artists releasing a debut album. Charles sings old school funk, soul, and R&B songs with a heavy influence of James Brown’s early sound. Charles can sing and shout with the best, but what’s most impressive is his songwriting. His songs are heartfelt reflections on his hard life that grip the listener and don’t let go. He sings about what he sees on his street and what he feels in project where he lives. In one song he asks, “It’s a cold, cold world/How can we stop the changes going on in the America today?” And even with all his hardships and struggles, he never forgets to credit who he cherishes most, saying “You cant question God when he wants to do things.”

For many years, Charles had been performing as part of a James Brown Cover Show that accidentally started while he was trained to become a cook at Job Corps. He chose this route of independence at the age of 14 and never looked back. Upon hearing Bradley’s music, Gabriel Roth (co-founder of Daptone Records) gave Charles a session to record some songs with Thomas Brenneck, but they were fruitless. A few years later, Bradley was booked in the opening slot for a tour with Sharon Jones, which was a major break for him. After the tour, Bradley and Brenneck gave it another try, and one night they recorded “World Gone Up To Flames” and “In You I found Love”, two tracks that showed that the pair had promise. This session was the start for the recording of Bradley’s debut album, No Time For Dreaming. As Charles and Thomas continued to work on the debut album, they developed a unique and creative process of song making that always evolve around Charles life stories.

Exceeding everyone’s expectations (including his own), No Time For Dreaming became one of the best-received records of the year, but as Roth points out in the film, Bradley’s work isn’t done yet – he has more records to make and more shows to play, but I don’t think that will be a problem for Charles Bradley. After the album’s release, he played more than 110 shows in over 17 countries. His long journey resulted in Bradley finding himself as he takes center stage after being in a tribute band for nearly half a century. As Bradley himself says in the title track, “there’s no time for dreaming, you gotta do your thing.”

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