With the recent passing of rhythm and blues master Solomon Burke, the man responsible for classics such as “Cry to Me” and “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love,” it seems as though the original generation of soul singers is receding further into the past.
Although there have been posthumous additions to the catalogues of titans such as Ray Charles, and there have even been new albums by survivors such as Al Green, there is a serious lack of new soul releases. Fortunately for the parched R&B fan, Daptone Records has been helping to quench the thirst for this waning genre. Groups such as Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, as well as other Daptone bands, have helped keep the genre alive in recent years.
The release of “No Time for Dreaming,” the debut album by Charles Bradley, further expands Daptone’s remarkable catalogue. Though the album has some very similar characteristics of other releases by the label, it is unmistakably unique.
Bradley is backed by the Menahan Street Band, who accent the record with sharp horn lines and funky rhythm parts that are more modern than the typical Daptone album. The biggest difference between Bradley and labelmates such as Jones shows itself in the bleak sound of “No Time for Dreaming.” Songs such as “I Believe in Your Love” feel like a hybrid of Al Green recordings with all the hope drained out of them and Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues (Make me Wanna Holler).”
If the instrumental arrangements sound vaguely depressing, the lyrics are decidedly noir. Tracks like “Why is it so Hard” and “The World (is Going Up in Flames)” explore the harsh realities of poverty in modern day America.
Even the love songs on the record seem downhearted, as if they are desperate appeals for affection rather than self-assured tributes to a fine romance. “Lovin’ You Baby” is worlds away from a classic Sam Cooke-style love ballad in terms of both its lyrics and its performance style.
Though “No Time for Dreaming” is not the right soundtrack for a date or party, it is still a remarkable album. Bradley’s vocals may not have all the subtleties of masters such as Burke or the sheer energy of James Brown, but his style is fresh. His performances are dynamic, accompanied by screams of passionate yearning and pleas of emotion.
Bradley’s voice does show signs of age, but it only contributes to the impact of his material. On the occasional high note, where his singing sounds ever so slightly strained, the character of his delivery compensates. And while the Menahan Street Band provides lively performances, they never overpower Bradley’s prominent singing.
On the last song, “Heartaches and Pain,” the balance between the vocals and the backing is nearly perfect. It sounds like it could be a forgotten Stax classic from the heyday of soul, a positive indication of how formidable future releases by Bradley could be.
Music fans searching for the next Otis Redding may be somewhat disappointed by this release, but such lofty standards are hardly fair. “No Time for Dreaming” is a remarkably powerful and substantial debut that becomes continually more endearing.
While other Daptone releases may be a better choice for upbeat occasions, Bradley can guide you through any post-Valentine’s Day blues or R&B-style heartbreak.
Berris is a member of the class of 2012.