Charles Bradley, Victim of Love, 2013, Dunham
Charles Bradley is 66 years old.
In 2011, he released his debut album No Time For Dreaming —and the result was like opening a time capsule full of the sweetest, souliest James Brown tunes ever recorded.
Although less striking and surprising than No Time For Dreaming, Bradley’s most recent album still channels the roots of soul.
Over Motown-esque horns, Bradley — in his scratchy, harrowed voice — sings, “when life was so cold/ you put the flame on me/ when life was so dark/ you put the light on me,” on the album’s second track, “You Put the Flame on It.”
The song sounds like Motown at its best and James Brown at his most mellow.
One of the faults, or at least concerns with Victim of Love, is that it’s too derivative.
It doesn’t exactly tread new ground.
Although it’s refreshing to hear someone like Bradley expertly navigate the genre, I finished the album wanting something more, some insight.
The most striking parts of No Time For Dreaming were the revelations Bradley brought to the table: “Why is it so hard/ To make it in America?” he screamed in the haunting “Why Is It So Hard.”
America needs to hear the voice of an old soul, needs to have a picture of the past, a picture of the injustices that pervaded and still runs rampant.
Bradley’s first album was a door into that world of hardship and desperation.
That feeling of desperation, of needing to make a change, is largely absent from Victim of Love.
Like the title suggest, the songs are mainly about love and the lack of it.
And at his best, Bradley has the best qualities of all the soul legends that came before him: the energy of James Brown, the vocal versatility of Otis Redding, the mournful lamentations of Sam Cooke — and he plays that part well.
But throughout Victim of Love, I hoped to hear his story.
Exuma, Exuma, 1970, Mercury Records
Exuma is the strangest album I’ve ever heard. I’m not exaggerating; I have never heard anything like it.
“Exuma, The Obeah Man,” the album’s opening track, begins with a dog’s sharp howl into the wind, the sound of crickets and swamp frogs bellowing into the night.
We’re following the singer, Exuma, as he dances through a dark swamp or a bayou, following — then the séance starts: the junky guitar comes in with rattling chords.
“I came down on a lightning bolt/ nine months in my Mama’s belly/when I was born the midwife/ screamed and shout/ I had fire and brimstone/ coming out of my mouth,” he sings, implanting a demonic vision in the listener.
“I’m Exuma, I’m The Obeah Man,” he continues, as the rattling steel drums pound away and birds chirp in the swamp, and the frantic energy he effortlessly channels reaches its peak.
Exuma, whose real name is Macfarlane Gregory Anthony Mackey, was born in the Bahamas sometime in the 1940s (no one really knows for sure), but moved to New York to attend architecture school in the late ’60s.
Exuma mixes the temperament of traditional Bahamian folk songs with junkanoo, a Bahamian version of calypso music performed mostly at carnivals and street festivals.
Exuma’s lyrics are centred around Obeah, a word for Bahamian folk magic and sorcery.
As a result, the album has a constant feeling of hellfire and damnation.
The third song on the album is called “Séance in the Sixth Fret,” and is literally a séance set to music.
What makes Exuma so great, however, is its ghostlike, frantic beauty. “Dambala,” the second song on the album, is largely acoustic.
In Haitian voodoo, Damballah is the creator of all life.
“You slavers will know what it’s like to be a slave/a slave to your hearts, a slave to your head,” the Obeah Man sings, almost in tears. Drums stomp in, as if thunder sent from heaven.
“A slave to your souls, a slave to your graves,” he continues.
Exuma may be channeling a god, “a lord of darkness, a king of light,” as he sings on “Mama Loi, Papa Loi,” but he is still desperate.
Desperate for the dead to rise, desperate for mortal justice.