Newport Folk Festival: Charles Bradley

If there’s anything I love about funk and soul, it’s when the bass and vocals collide. If you stopped by the Fort stage this Sunday to see Charles Bradley, then that’s exactly what you got. His group, The Extraordinaires, started things off with a jamming track the featured all of their instruments: trumpet, saxophone, drums, keys, bass, and guitar. Everyone wore black shades and dressed like they were ready to hit the casinos in their best. Bradley’s introduction came from the keyboardist who gave a couple equally silly and serious lines about Bradley’s talent.

“The World (Is Going Up In Flames)” got the crowd revved up once he let out one of his memorable screams, reaching all the grit and scratch at the bottom of his throat. He would end the song with another huge scream that gathered force when combined with a big symbol drumroll. Bradley loved tossing his arms up and letting his voice pierce through the crowd, chock full of soul.

The arm waving didn’t stop there. Bradley would frequently fan his arms around him slowly, like a bird lifting off in slow motion, gracefully and not in a hurry. He would then clasp them as if in a prayer and sway his hips back and forth. “I need you so,” he called out before the drums picked up and they started speeding up. The crowd began clapping along and jumping, squealing as it got faster and faster.

If his voice ever reminds you of James Brown, then you’re on to something. In 1996, Bradley actually was a James Brown impersonator in local Brooklyn clubs and went by the name “Black Velvet”. It was at one of these shows that Daptone Records heard him and recruited him to begin a solo career (as himself, not a faux Brown). He recorded some tracks with a band (whom he told just “just play” and he would make up lyrics on the spot) and those songs later were placed on his 2011 album No Time For Dreaming. 

The keyboardist then came back out to check in on the crowd again. “Would you like some more Charles?” he asked, yelling louder and louder. “Let’s go, Charles!” someone yelled out from the crowd. “Then here’s the eagle of soul, Mister Charrrrrrrrrrles Bradley!”

Choosing favorites is hard when listening to Bradley’s tracks. He never favored one over the other, giving equal soul and emotion to every song no matter how slow or fast, long or short, sad or happy it was. If anything, he just wanted to have fun, and fun we all definitely had.

Click here to watch Charles Bradley hug audience members as his band finished the set.

 

By Nina Corcoran

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