Charles Bradley

I knew soul was messy, but I hadn’t seen firsthand how beautiful and messy it could be until last week’s Friday Cheers.

Rain fell all day long, leaving the ground on Brown’s Island a soupy wreck, and when Mrs. YHT and I finally walked across the pedestrian bridge onto Brown’s Island — we’d spent the preceding half hour in the car, delaying our inevitable drenching — I did not expect that the show would actually happen. The original start time had lapsed and the entrance fee had been waived, yet I didn’t see a single spectating soul until the front edge of the stage was in view. There, a dozen or so umbrellas were huddled, the people under them watching Charles Bradley’s backing band — in this context you’d call them Bradley’s “Extraordinaires,” but without Bradley they’re known as Menahan Street Band — tune up. (I imagined that the band was having their own version of the “Is this thing actually going to happen?” conversation.)

Some friends had taken refuge under an unused radio station canopy across from the beer truck, and we joined them and learned that (good news) people were being allowed backstage, but (bad news) Bradley was rumored to be held up in traffic. We didn’t go backstage, but amazingly, just a short time later, we heard Bradley’s Extraordinaires playing what sounded like organized notes, and a few instrumental numbers later (“Summer In The City” being one) there he was. The Victim of Love. The Original Black Swan. The One and Only Screaming Eagle of Soul. (His extended intro, voiced by the band’s keys player, was a show unto itself. It felt more like a wrestling introduction, like how Paul Bettany introduced Heath Ledger in A Knight’s Tale.)

The rest of the evening was pure magic. The band sounded great, Bradley’s voice was every bit the wonder I’d hoped it would be, and the small group of us that crowded the gravely area near the stage made enough noise for an audience 10 times our size. And while the music was outstanding (the rendition of “Confusion” embedded above was a personal favorite), what Bradley did between songs was most memorable.

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5×5, Part 3: Late-Breakers

5x5, Part 3 - Late-Breakers

Now that we’ve taken a look at songs and collaborations, I thought a fun way to warm up for the discussion of 2012’s best albums would be to recognize the ones I’ve been drooling over since other people’s year-end lists started hitting the interwebs. Given a little more time, any or all of these albums may very well have wiggled into my own list of favorite albums. (Quick side note: I know I’m ridiculously late to the party on some of these — COUGHKishiBashiCOUGH — but what can I say? A group of wise men once sang that “You do what you can, when you can, where you are.” Words to live by, as far as I’m concerned.)

Without further ado…

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