In the music environment we reside in today, younger acts are often the center of attention. Whether it in the mainstream or within more underground scenes, fresher faces are more sought after for their youthful spirit and exuberance. However, much more experienced artists, whether it be in the music industry or just living in general, have their own advantages. The maturity and aged wisdom that come with being accustomed to the harsh realities of life can bring an interesting point of view to the table.
Here on Changes, Charles Bradley uses these assets to his best ability. The opening track starts with a monologue from Bradley as he ponders on how America has had a part in his life’s struggles, successes, and nearly everything in between before belting out a short yet powerful cover of “God Bless America.” The strained, dusty sound in his voice makes his claims of struggle quite convincing, as it definitely sounds like he’s been around the block more than a few times.
While the album doesn’t stick to this theme of change as much as the opening monologue would suggest, there’s still hints of it in a couple of tracks. Nowhere is this attitude more apparent than in the first two singles that came out for this record: “Changes” and “Change for the World.” The latter is a call for change in the outlook of the people of the world; replace all the hatred in your soul with peace and love. The former is a tearjerker of a Black Sabbath song that is a great showcase of Bradley’s vocals at their most powerful and emotionally potent, as well as being one of the best songs on the record. What both of these tracks have in common is this loveable sense of authenticity to his words that give his words that much more power.
The greatest strength of Changes isn’t its conceptual cohesion, but rather Charles Bradley himself. He’s proven on his two previous records that he’s got quite a set of pipes, but he’s never sounded better than on this album right here. This may have to do with the clearer production, but the point still stands that the man is a vocal titan.
Tracks like the aforementioned title track, “Good to be Back Home,” and “Ain’t Gonna Give It Up” have Bradley absolutely singing his heart out, his soulful screams setting each track on fire with his passion. Match this with an instrumental palette that calls back to the heydays of soul, and you’ve got a formula that produces a batch of tracks that wouldn’t feel out of place in a playlist full of the old greats. While that is quite the compliment, it is also to the album’s detriment in a way.
Changes doesn’t really bring too much original to the table instrumentally, rather settling for a familiar yet stable sound with its prominent sax and horns and subtle bass being an often used template. Thankfully, there are some deviations that do freshen up the track list quite well. “Ain’t Gonna Give It Up” and “Ain’t It a Sin” go in more of a funk direction with some great bass grooves backing up Bradley, and the mix of a nice blues-y riff, some of the best background vocals on the record, and an especially likable vocal performance on the charming “Things We Do for Love” make a definite highlight.
Overall, there are enough left hooks thrown in the track list to keep thing moderately interesting, but the greatest compliment that can be given to the music itself is that it has that ‘70s soul sound to a tee.
When Bradley says in his opening monologue, “America, you’ve been…real, honest, hurt, and sweet to me.” He isn’t exaggerating. If you know the story behind this man, you’d know that he’s one of the greatest underdog stories to rise up in a while. Going from being homeless at age 14 sleeping on a basement floor, to a hitchhiker, to a professional James Brown impersonator, and eventually signing onto Daptone Records in 2002, he’s come an incredibly long way to end up where he is now. That is what makes Changes so wonderfully rewarding: after decades of tribulation, he’s finally reached the point where he’s formed a name for himself and a platform of his own to share his experiences with the world through his music. There’s no doubt he’s gone through changes in his life, and that there’s going to be many of them in the future. Let’s hope that these changes will be for the better, just as things changed for the better here.