Charles Bradley is an exceptionally-gifted singer, whose life story is anything but pleasant. He ran away from home, went through the Job Corps program, spent a few years as a cook in Maine, hitchhiked across the country to the west coast, returned to New York, nearly died of an allergic reaction and woke up to the news that his brother had been murdered. But when the Menahan Street Band encountered him as a James Brown impersonator known as “Black Velvet”, a bond was quickly formed that led to the recording of his first album No Time For Dreaming on the Daptone Records label. A second album followed this year, Victim of Love.
The first thing I noticed at Bradley’s Beale Street Music Festival appearance was how tight the Menahan Street Band is. Everything from bass to drums to horns was perfectly together, as if someone were playing a recording. And Bradley has a first-rate voice, the kind of true soul singing that today’s youngsters just don’t seem to want to do. He came out on a Memphis-style ballad called “Crying in the Chapel” (but not the doo-wop standard tune of that name). It was an odd choice for his first number, although the Menahan band had warmed things up with a couple of instrumentals beforehand. During his half-hour or so set, Bradley ran through a number of tunes from both of his albums, and when he had finished, the crowd demanded an encore for nearly five minutes. Bradley and the Menahan Street Band returned, this time with Bradley elegantly attired in a red outfit, and they performed one final tune in which Bradley discussed diversity and the need for love regardless of color or other differences. It was an amazing way to close out the first night of Memphis In May.