Album Review: Charles Bradley – Black Velvet

By Kwase Lane, Contributor
[Dunham; 2018]
Rating: 8/10

Key tracks: “Slip Away”, “(I Hope You Find) The Good Life”, “Fly Little Girl”

Serving as a sort of final gift from the Screaming Eagle of Soul, Black Velvet is a lovingly curated collection of covers and original compositions by Charles Bradley. After being taken from the world at the age of 68 by stomach cancer, Bradley’s posthumous album transforms the once-proud eagle into a mighty phoenix, letting the artist rise from the ashes for one final croon. Although the project is shaped by Bradley’s familiar introspective tone, the entire album is tinged with an otherworldly sadness that comes from the circumstances of its release. However, this only serves to elevate the project and present the audience with feelings they would not have been exposed to otherwise.

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In his cover of Sixto Rodriguez’s “Slip Away”, Charles Bradley is unshakeable. It is evident to his audience that this man is above it all as he sings about his worries and discontents before he conceives the solution of just walking away from woes. The piece performs a derring-do of walking the line between anxiety and bliss. The listener can hear the pain and stress in Bradley’s voice, but the lyrics are so carefree it’s like he’s trying to convince himself everything will be OK. He is not blind to the problems that occupy his existence, but Bradley’s found his stride and he’ll be damned if he lets anyone knock him off of it.

“(I Hope You Find) The Good Life” is a delicate, soulful tune colored by Bradley’s signature raspy vocals. The track is possessed by a strange sense of longing and acceptance that coalesces into a gut-wrenching nostalgia. The lyrics give the sense of Bradley’s self-imposed exile from someone he cares for deeply and the whole thing feels wonderfully old-fashioned like the world was just painted with a sepia filter. Suddenly you’re in your grandfather’s car, and he’s just popped in a cassette and Bradley’s voice seeps from the speakers. The smell of sun-cracked leather fills the small vehicle and you resist falling asleep, cradled by his gentle, knowing lyrics.

“Fly Little Girl” is a beautifully soothing piece that takes on a bittersweet taste due to Bradley’s recent passing. The whole thing is like a warm hug you didn’t know you needed, but for some reason the longer you stay in this embrace, the more tears well in your eyes. Charles Bradley is undoubtedly addressing someone he is close to, but one would not be a fool for believing these words were tailor-made for them. These feelings are only intensified when one realizes this is the penultimate song on his final album. This man is using his limited words to leave you with parting guidance, wish you well, and affirm your value in his mind. All at once Bradley becomes a reassuring hand on the listener’s shoulder, one they can’t help but appreciate.

Black Velvet is a magnificent parting album from this music legend. It simultaneously serves as a heartfelt goodbye and a reminder of what the world has lost. It happens all too often that once a star has passed on, they are grave robbed for any unreleased piece of art they may have had. Thankfully, Black Velvet is not this. Black Velvet is a loving tribute that gives both old fans and newcomers a look into what made Charles Bradley so great. Whether he is adapting the songs of others into his own style or carving his own path, Bradley is an unwavering titan of creativity and his songs that are tinted with images of the past will echo far into the future.

Listen here:

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