He’s known nothing but hard times, scraped for everything he has, faced loss and disillusion time and again – all he’s missing is his dog running away. Actually, he has a version of that involving a pet chicken…but we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
Charles Bradley was once a James Brown impersonator (performing as “Black Velvet”). Eventually he was discovered by Gabriel Roth of Daptones records, and offered a chance to record his own material. Poull Brien’s film, SOUL OF AMERICA, is the telling of that unlikely creative process.
The music business is a strange animal. It’s the sort of grind that has kids dreaming of making it big from the moment they can hold a hairbrush. Some kids are lucky enough to get a taste of that dream, others still to start living it. However, the business and the collective fickleness of fans throws cold water on those dreams before many musicians turn 30. The dream ends faster than it began. So you’d think that by 30…40…certainly by 50…that the dreamers would stop dreaming their musical dreams.
Bradley never did. Something inside him refused to be deterred by where he lived, or how little he made. He took large measures of joy from the little things, and held out hope that someday things would get better. This is the takeaway from this stunning and soulful film, that you never know what’s possible.
After all, how could Bradley have known that the new century would bring with it a soul revival? Further, would he ever have guessed that one of the epicentres of said revival would be right there in Brooklyn?
This document of Bradley’s breakout plays like a 45 of a modern song. The style of the music, and the heart of the man feel like the sort of thing that was happening fifty years ago in Detroit…or Memphis…or Chicago. Certainly doesn’t following the narrative of a generation obsessed with disposable pop, and YouTube fame. All of this throwback joy gets a modern look with this handsome film that gives a Charles Bradley a look and sound that might well be better than being there.
More than anything, SOUL OF AMERICA is a celebration. It’s a loving tribute to a truly rare story, and a toast to a man who is equal parts giddy and humble. While it was primarily produced around the time Bradley’s star began to rise, it has an authenticity that lets us feel like we were there from the beginning. It allows us to know every facet of this wonderful artist, and root for him like so many who have met him do.
Bradley’s life might have been a country song, but the man who has lived that life is 100% American Soul. He is a testament to doing what you love, and a beacon for what’s possible.
Oh, and the best part of his story? Charles Bradley is still just beginning.