Charles Bradley is not the kind of guy to sing of love in fantastical terms; he’s much too real for that. Bearing a voice streaked with the ravages of inner torment, this nomadic 64-year-old soul shouter — now based in a Brooklyn very different to the one in which he grew up — instead captures the pains and pleasures of love in sobering but unrestrained tones: He screams, shouts, pleads and moans of desire and disappointment so extreme that words alone cannot suffice. Not merely singing, he testifies of love and social injustice: This former James Brown impersonator does not hold back.
Bradley’s second album teams him with the Menahan Street Band, a dynamic crew drawn from the Dap-Kings, Antibalas, the Budos Band and other Daptone acts. Unlike his 2011 debut No Time for Dreaming, this one’s solely comprised of originals composed by Bradley, Menahan leader Charles Brenneck, and other band members who help him both recapture and transcend the southern soul grooves of Dreaming. Victim of Love is no less reverent, though: When it leaves behind the romantic themes of its first half for a suite of socially conscious tracks starting with “Confusion,” producer/guitarist Brenneck conjures up a storm of psychedelic sound effects and thunderous rock riffs that evokes Norman Whitfield’s late-’60s/early-’70s work with the Temptations. The tough, tumultuous results suit Bradley’s growls and grunts, particularly on “Hurricane,” where man’s ecological abuse begets tears from heaven that make life hell. On the concluding “Through the Storm,” clouds part for prayerful sentiments of gratitude and hope. He’s weathered the tempest, yet remains tenacious.