Album Review: OCnotes on Charles Bradley's Posthumous New LP Black Velvet

Album Reviews

Beloved soul singer Charles Bradley passed away from cancer last year at the age of 68, and he is still missed every day. This Friday, Daptone Records imprint Dunham Records will release a posthumous album, Black Velvet. We asked OCnotes — the host of KEXP's Sunday Soul and a musical artist in his own right under the OCnotes moniker — to share his thoughts on this final Charles Bradley LP. 

I made sure when I listened to the latest and final Charles Bradley record Black Velvet, that I would be in an environment where I wouldn’t receive any noise complaints and could really soak it all in.  I also made sure to listen in nice speakers and headphones to not half step on both listening experiences. My conclusion... this album is FIRE! Absolute heat from front to back.

Unlike many albums from artists who have gotten their wings, this isn’t a "greatest hits" record or a collection of old jams that embody his recording career.  No, these are gems never-before-heard, stashed jewels. The fourth and final album to add to his previous classics. A perfect goodbye from a soul music diamond. Although some of the mixes have been described as “rough recordings,” I find all ten tracks to be as perfect and beautiful as freedom and love itself, which I think would be a wonderful way to describe the great Charles Bradley. 

Bradley is backed by the soul-charging Menahan Street Band. MSB is a New York-based Instrumental band consisting of Thomas Brenneck, Nick Movshon, Homer Steinweiss, Mike Deller, Dave Guy, and Leon Michels. The album comes out the gate with an upbeat soul gem “Can’t Fight the Feeling.” The punchy drums, dreamy two organ notes that ride through the verses, piano stabs, and Bradley's heart and soul pouring out on the track make this the perfect intro for a record that gives you everything you could ever want from a soul-funk classic.  “Luv Jones” a neck-snapping collaboration with the legendary LaRose Jackson, features an improvised verse by Bradley that proves that all he needed to lace a track was the right vibe and groove, which the MSB flawlessly provides. There is a heart-melting previously unreleased version of “I Feel a Change,” the finest in inspirational, break-up or stay together music. 

There are a few Seattle connections on this record as well. The first, an uplifting super groovin' cover of Detroit funk legend Rodriguez with the song “Slip Away” released via Seattle's own Light in the Attic Records. Second, a cover of Nirvana's “Stay Away” a request by SPIN Magazine for the 25th anniversary of Nevermind.  The one instrumental on the record is the title track “Black Velvet.” MSB says, “This song belongs to Charles.” The song started as a beautiful wavy guitar riff; the band was saving it for Charles with hopes he would have enough strength after chemotherapy to sing the song.  Unfortunately, the strength never returned and the song remains an instrumental for him. 

There is a cover of Neil Young's “Heart of Gold” followed by possibly the lowrider oldie of the year “I Hope You Find (The Good Life).” The pain, angst, love, in Charles' voice.  If you can't feel it, you might want to check your pulse. The background vocals are butter. The sweet sprinkles on the icing. The wisdom and strength of this man, who has lived one of the wildest lives lived, can be felt on this one. He sings “Memories are the corners of my mind / Misty colored water, baby, of the way we were.” Whooo!! Absolutely Solid! 

The last two tracks — “Fly Little Girl” a gospel track about a family dispute with beautiful guitar, and “Victim of Love” the full MSB band version of the previously released acoustic track — will have you going back to Track 1 to feel it all over again.  

I miss you, Charles Bradley. We miss you. Thank you for all the love. I write this with watery eyes as I listen to your music.  You were a real one.  Big thank you to Tommy Brenneck for his amazing notes on each song and for being a cornerstone in helping people to hear his voice.  Another huge thank you to MSB as a whole for being the perfect band to grace Mr. Bradley's soul. It's no wonder the hip-hop world is sampling you like crazy. Much Respect.  

Black Velvet is available November 9th via Dunham/Daptone Records. 

OCnotes is the host of KEXP's Sunday Soul, bringing you a mix of new R&B, soul, funk and hip-hop alongside old school and classic soul, funk and crate-digger classics every Sunday from 6:00 to 9:00 PM PT. 

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