Charles Bradley’s bio is something out of a storybook. Homeless as a teenager, then itinerant, working as a cook and janitor for most of his life, he was discovered by Daptone Records in the early 2000s while gigging as a James Brown impersonator in little New York City clubs, and then turned into an overnight sensation in his mid-50s. And he’s making the most of it.
“The Screaming Eagle of Soul” and his eight-piece band turned the Bearsville Theater upside down Friday night with a generous two-hour show of delicious retro-soul. Bradley is on the primal edge of Pickett/Redding/Brown-type soul shouting, lots of grunts and gravel, peppered with the occasional glass-shattering scream. In that space, he’s an utter genius, and a happy one at that. I don’t think I’ve ever heard the word “love” used more times, and more sincerely, by any person in a two-hour period. And when he wasn’t manhandling the micstand and testifying, he was demonstrating moves from the pure goofiness school of dance: bad Elvis fake-karate moves, awkward spins and splits, robot-mime, funky belly-dancing, or just throwing his arms out and head back with a beatific smile. This is a man who knows he’s blessed and loves what he does. And it’s impossible to resist falling in love with him.
This is the fourth Daptone act I’ve seen and the first one with a band who didn’t rub me the wrong way even slightly. These guys killed it, from Muscle Shoals/Memphis slink, to rat-a-tat horn signatures, to sweet three-part harmonies, and even to the pitch-perfect absorption of metal (!!!) in their audacious cover of Black Sabbath’s “Changes.” Hats off to bandleader-producer-guitarist Thomas Brenneck for locking down the complete package.
Local sparkplug Simi Stone opened the show, accompanied only by a keyboardist. She’s an immense young talent, and her pipes and arrestingly honest stage presence overcame her somewhat pedestrian self-penned material. Set her up with some tunes and watch out.