Charles Bradley: Black Velvet
When Charles Bradley died from stomach cancer in 2017, the music world entered a rare period of deep collective mourning—the same type of primal, profound grief that greeted the loss of David Bowie and Prince. Unlike those pop icons, the soul belter was never a household name—but few singers could channel the same level of raw angst and passion with a single raspy squeal. Later in life, Bradley earned a level of cult-like reverence not far from his heroes like James Brown and Otis Redding, and he left behind a truly killer parting gift, one last shockwave of R&B-funk fury. Black Velvet is technically a posthumous collection, gathering unreleased tracks laid down during sessions for each of his three studio albums: 2011’s No Time for Dreaming, 2013’s Victim of Love and 2016’s Changes. But the record feels cohesive in a way that defies generic postdeath vault plundering, with each side of Bradley’s personality highlighted. He slips into improvised wailing on the trippy “(I Hope You Find) The Good Life” (which conjures Motown on Mars) and smoothly grooves over the punctuated horns of “Can’t Fight the Feeling.” Even the cover versions feel uniquely his own, from the sly Latin strut of Rodriguez’s “Slip Away” to a psychedelic, organ-laced rendering of Nirvana’s “Stay Away.” “Can’t stop what you start, can’t stop what you got,” he croons on the silky “Luv Jones.” Dude ain’t kidding—even after death, Bradley’s soul fire burns.