As evidenced in the 2012 documentary Charles Bradley: Soul Of America, Charles Bradley is passionate. Living through decades of unfortunate and often harrowing trials of life, including rampant poverty, homelessness and the murder of his brother, the former James Brown tribute act—a devout fan since seeing Brown wail at the Apollo in 1962—was discovered by Daptone head honcho Gabe Roth. Bradley’s sophomore album, Victim Of Love, burns hard and slow. Even despite triumphing over odds heavily stacked against him, it’s difficult to imagine the 64-year-old soul crooner could ever be anyone’s victim; he’s the Screaming Eagle Of Soul.
But Victim Of Love harkens back to the crux of that soul—raw, unabashed love songs dot its tracklist. Victim Of Love is hopeful everywhere No Time For Dreaming, his debut album about a soul star on the rise, was melancholy. The major change in tone is the lack of pomp in Victim Of Love. And Bradley’s visceral blues don’t need the fanfare. He’s accompanied by the spectacular Menahan Street Band, which also plays “Dusty Blue,” the album’s only instrumental track and a delightful mid-album mood-setter.
The record teeter-totters, hitting all of the rising and falling action in a passionate love story, from “Love Bug Blues,” which speaks of the jitters of fresh infatuation, through the lovelorn longing of “Crying In The Chapel.” “Where Do We Go From Here” and punch-and-go funk number “Confusion” document Bradley’s bewilderment with the whims of the fairer sex. Yes, many tracks on Victim Of Love find their core in heartache, a base of shared human experience, but every song isn’t about suffering wounds inflicted by a woman. We hear the warmth of love in “You Put The Flame On It,” easily an album highlight and a straight-up soul swooner concerning the passion inspired by the love of a woman (Bradley doesn’t mince words: “You make me shine like I’ve never shined before”) and album closer “Through The Storm” thanks a no-longer-present woman for the tenderness of her love.
From the somber songs, it’s clear that calling Bradley unlucky in love would be kind. His pain isn’t like the cheap kind found in a Nicholas Sparks novel. Bradley likens love to nature’s most destructive forces: fire, hurricanes and storms. These forces have recently taken homes, food and life, but the barely visible silver lining on the black cloud is that those struggles have knit the survivors together.