It’s hard to talk about Charles Bradley’s new album, No Time For Dreaming, without mentioning Sharon Jones – or Nathaniel Mayer or Nashville’s The Dynamites featuring Charles Walker, for that matter. All are projects from veteran soul/rhythm and blues artists whose careers have been brought back to life by younger, reverent producers and a hipster audience. “Retro-soul” some people would say. Whereas Mayer’s two recent albums, Why Don’t You Give It To Me? (2007) and Why Won’t You Let Me Black? (2009), were co-pro’d by The Black Keys’ master of vintage cool, Dan Auerbach, Bradley’s arme secrète is the Menahan Street band, a sort of subsection of Daptone Records house band, The Dap-Kings, which also includes members of The Budos Band, Antibalas, El Michels Affair, and Lee Fields and the Expressions. They pour studious funk into every crevice of No Time For Dreaming, never straying too far from the retro style displayed prominently on two albums for Sharon Jones and about half the songs on Amy Winehouse’s Back To Black, but also offer up a few surprises, like the acoustic guitar-based, slightly Latin-tinged, instrumental, “Since Our Last Goodbye.”
Charles Bradley was first inspired as a young man by a James Brown show at the Apollo, and Bradley’s vocal style is still heavily informed by the funk pioneer. But, as the story goes, Bradley never quite got his due in the golden age of funk and was recently discovered playing in a small bar in the Bedford–Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn by Daptone Records’ Gabriel Roth. When Bradley sings “Lovin You, Baby” he leaves the James Brown-isms at the door, and brings 100% Charles Bradley into the vocal booth. It’s a heartbreaking performance, with plaintive horn lines that play perfectly off Bradley’s singing. On “Why Is It So Hard?” Bradley tells his life’s story. “I was born in Gainesville, Florida/ I traveled far and wide/ Then I moved to Brooklyn, New York/ Had hard times, but sometimes I hold on,” he sings. “Why is it so hard to make it in America?” Bradley asks on the song’s chorus, as the by-the-book Memphis Horns lines get his back.