With the death of Charles Bradley at the weekend, Wind Back Wednesday commemorates the Screaming Eagle Of Soul by stepping back 18 months.
First a review of his last album, Changes, published on April 1 2016, and then a review of the show the next night when he played with Alabama Shakes at the Enmore Theatre.
This is not an album for tearing up the floor; it’s an album for dropping to that floor and asking for mercy. And love. And affection.
Its tempo and tenor can be summed up in the album’s final song, Slow Love. It is slow and measured, with brass muted in the background, backing voices ringing sweetly in the middle and Charles Bradley’s husky assertiveness in the foreground.
And within it he pleads, for solace and commitment while promising both manliness and sensitivity. You get the feeling he isn’t certain it will happen but boy is he all-in.
Back at the start of the album, Bradley rips a little opening in his throat singing of his love for the homeland in God Bless America, widens it further with a couple of James Brown tics (and guitar and brass lines) in Good To Be Back Home and – perhaps not surprisingly – sounds a little worn through in the electric piano-coloured Nobody But You.
Save for the tough talking Ain’t It A Sin, the rest of the time the songs don’t go above soul ballad speed, even in the deep groove of Ain’t Gonnna Give It Up, for Changes is a record for deep immersion - via the barcalounger, solo or in company, not the club.
ALABAMA SHAKES AND CHARLES BRADLEY
Enmore Theatre, April 2
This was not a competition. Though their space was a little bit more restricted than Alabama Shakes’, Charles Bradley and his Extraordinaires had an hour, seemingly full access to the sound board and, later, the highest praise from the Shakes’ frontwoman Brittany Howard. There were no insecurities here.
Nor for that matter was it complementary exactly. There were differences between the young, dressed-down-for-working-business headliners, with a singer/songwriter seeming prematurely mature and experienced (her voice and confidence reeking of decades of doing this even as her face proved otherwise) and the rather aged but flamboyantly attired support act whose lust for life - and lust generally! - seemed voraciously greater than his sharply dressed and (especially in the rhythm section) more sharply attuned than the Shakes band who aren’t even half his age.
However, those differences were minor, set alongside a shared yearning for the sweat and groove of soul – the adult variety of physicality, directness and volume rather than the neat, sweet and pop-flavoured variety.
This was a double header, a double dose if you will, both Bradley and Howard dominating the floor and attention with growls, cries, actual (from him) and metaphoric (from her) drops to the knees and the huskiness suggestive of anything but politeness.
Where their paths diverged was in the finessing of all of those elements, or, if you prefer, the balance between performance and songwriting.
As traditional as Bradley’s songs might be they are expertly constructed and match his delivery and his ability, making a whole, sometimes funny, sometimes sexy -sometimes very funny in it sexiness - and sometimes nearly overwrought package.
For Alabama Shakes though, the combination of grunt and swing in the band and towering charisma from Howard nearly, so very nearly, obscures from view the fact that they have a number of good but so far hardly any brilliant songs to match her.
Step back a bit during through the otherwise spectacular night and Alabama Shakes songs both old and new – the latter dominating the setlist given the second album is only weeks away – reveal themselves to be solid but unspectacular items being masterfully lifted by a singer who could sell a Christopher Pyne reform to the National Union of Students.
Let’s call her The Fixer. And then invite her and Bradley back very soon.