Changes, the third studio album from the screaming eagle of soul himself Charles Bradley is his most consistent and cohesive album to date. Backed by the Daptone studio house band featuring members of the Menahan Street Band and the Budos Band, Changes is built on a bedrock of lean funky rhythms and soulful melodic grooves. Its gritty nature conveys the uncertainty of life and there is no better singer to capture that feeling than Bradley.
Opening with the patriotic fervour of God Bless America with Naomi Shelton and The Gospel Queens providing uplifting harmonies, Bradley extols the virtues of his homeland in a heartfelt half spoken tribute. Good To Be Back Home is barnstorming funk recalling the heady days of James Brown in the late 60’s. Nobody But You is classic mid tempo Northern Soul, the horn refrain recalls the seventies classic Summer Breeze. Ain’t Gonna Give It Up is a great vehicle for Bradley’s almost tortured sounding vocals, impassioned and urgent Bradley always makes you feel a deep undercurrent of emotion with his performance. Producer and guitarist Thomas Brennick is the master of understatement on this album, allowing Bradley’s voice to be front and centre, he creates a tasteful soundscape where the horns create an impact but you hardly know they are there.
The title track is a cover of a Black Sabbath song and would seem an incongruous choice for a cover but Bradley takes it and owns it. The song builds slowly with Brennick channelling Curtis Mayfield in his opening guitar part before unleashing the horns in the chorus. Ain’t It A Sin is pure party funk with an insistent pulsing rhythm, it also displays Bradley’s virtuosity he is just as comfortable with the uptempo tunes as he is with the slow burners. Things We Do For Love sounds like classic Chicago male vocal group soul from the mid 60’s, whether it’s the Radiants, the Impressions or the Marvelloes.
You Think I Don’t Know has a more expansive sound with the Gospel Queens adding their crisp harmonies. Change For The World harks back to the more politically conscious work of artists like Sly Stone and Funkadelic. Bradley has seen many ups and downs in his life, it’s reflected in his music there is an aching sadness in his voice but also a determined sense of acceptance for all that is happened. It’s that ethos that shapes his songs, it’s perhaps part of the reason why he continues to build a loyal and ever growing following.