Album Review: Charles Bradley’s No Time for Dreaming
Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon sailed the Atlantic Ocean during the 17th century, searching for the Fountain of Youth, hoping to slow down his aging. Legend has is that he thought it may have been in The Bahamas or what would later be known as Florida. Well, someone should have told him to come to Brooklyn. The New York borough seems to be home to a spring for seniors to turn back the clock and regain past glories. Just ask “well-matured” singers Sharon Jones, Naomi Sheldon and Lee Fields, beneficiaries of Brooklyn record labels Daptone and Truth & Soul respectively. Each have carved sucessful niches for themselves, attracting multi-cultured audiences partched from lack of real soul and gospel music on the radio and TV. Well, now it’s Charles Bradley’s turn. He has released his first LP, No Time For Dreaming.
The title No Time For Dreaming has a touch of irony, considering it’s the debut of an artist currently in his fifties. Daptone has gained a reputation for being less concerned with the age and/or image of its artists than that of their voices and what it is they have to say, and Charles Bradley has had a lot on his mind. A native Brooklynite by way of Gainsville, FL, Bradley spent most of his adult life working odd jobs from one town to the next, singing whenever and wherever he could. Once he made his way back to Brooklyn, he caught the attention of Daptone and he was signed to subsidiary Durham Records in 2002.
No Time For Dreaming was performed and produced by The Menahan Street Band – a hodgepog of Daptone/Truth & Soul bands The Dap Kings, El Michels Affair and The Budos Band – with whom he’s performed with throughout the decade and also recorded seven vinyl-only singles. Menahan’s blend of Stax-esque R&B and cinematic soul has served as a fitting couplet to the raspy, time-treaded tenor of Bradley. As a co-writer of eight of the 12 tracks, Bradley tackles topics of hard times and heartache on this album. Five songs were the aforementioned 45s, and they served as the template for the rest of the record, including album opener, “The World (Is Going Up in Flames).” Bradley’s lyrics reflect his resentments of the public’s indifference to society’s ills: “I can’t turn my head away seeing all these things/the world is burning up in flames/and nobody wants to take the blame.” Bradley made sure he let his listeners know that he’s not just some preachy observer, insisting he’s experienced those very ills head on: “Don’t tell me how to live my life/when you’ve never felt the pain.” “My World,” along with “Golden Rule,” “Why is it So Hard,” and the title track, portray the old wise sage, warning all comers that the past is about to repeat itself if something isn’t done soon. The Menahan Street Band sublimely backed up his prophetic words with their idiosyncratic blend of breakbeat drums, Afrobeat rhythms, and blissering horns. Each bluesy strum of the guitar wrapped around Bradley’s screams let you know this man’s hands are riddled with calluses.
Rest assured, not all of the albums best moments are anthems of injustices and adversity. Bradley takes some time out to express affection for that special someone. “The Telephone Song” is that it’s-time-to-blow-out-the-candles track that’s equal parts plea and wooing. While Bradley sings over the phone, “I gotta make it right,” the Menahan Street Band is subliminally enticing his lady love with hypnotic congas. That same longing, sensual tension found its way into songs like “In You (I Found A Love)” and “Lovin’ You, Baby,” as the wah-wah guitars causes sweat to pour and shoulders to sway.
Thematically and sonically, No Time For Dreaming is no different from albums by Jones, Fields or The Budos Band. However, such similarities must not be held against Bradley, especially considering the same musicians were used in the same sessions. And while ultimately it isn’t as well-rounded as Fields’ 2009 LP My World, it doesn’t need to be, because despite going through familiar growing pains and dues-paying as his artistic counterparts, Bradley has his own story to tell and after listening, you’ll want to hear more of it.
Charles Bradley’s No Time For Dreaming get’s 3 1/2 Headphones out of 5