Charles Bradley, aka the Screaming Eagle of Soul, was unknown and unrecorded until recently. The 65-year-old has just released his second album, Victim of Love, on neo-soul label Daptone Records.
Last Thursday, his backup band played a few gritty instrumentals before Bradley walked onstage and unleashed a scream louder than the Big Bang. It sounded older than the universe, too. I picked my jaw up off the floor.
His style incorporated most of the subgenres of soul from the mid-'60s to the early '70s—the deepest of Memphis soul; James Brown's transition into funk; Al Green's early Hi Records recordings; and Psychedelic Shack. Soul, by definition, is the merging of gospel and R&B: the spiritual and the secular. Bradley sermonized about love, lust, corruption, greed, war and confusion. But he kept stressing self-belief, self-love and the importance of an individual's action for the greater good of society. Idealistic, for sure, but I believed him.
But who exactly was it on the stage? Was it Bradley, who at times uncannily resembled soul legends of yore, or was it the eternal spirit being channeled through this man's body? Surely there was music that felt the same as James Brown and Otis Redding before tape machines were invented, pre-empting any criticism of Bradley's traditional style. He delivered the same message we historically never have—and probably never will—listen to, while paraphrasing the golden rule. He told us that he was depending on the youth of the world to save it. I believed him and picked my jaw up off the floor.
While watching this, I felt like I was in the audience for James Brown's Live at the Apollo album from 1962. Everyone was screaming; Bradley preached and sang in a state of ecstasy; and the band was mesmerizing. When he danced, it didn't seem voluntary. He had to move; he was possessed. But the difference between this and Live at the Apollo was epochal. On this night, people of all ages and—more important—ethnicities were touched in the same fundamental way. For a single moment in time and space, it seemed like the racial divide could be a thing of the past. With my jaw firmly attached, I picked my heart up off the floor, unsure what to make of what I had just experienced, or anything else for that matter.