Psalms of “Black Velvet”

Steve Sudeth with a post on the little-known Charles Bradley, a one-time James Brown impersonator who has now released his own albums rich with spiritual overtones. More after the jump.


Charles Bradley was a James Brown impersonator playing the clubs of Brooklyn in 1996 under the name “Black Velvet”. Now, at the age of 64, he is a Daptone recording artist who just released his second album called Victim of Love.  His story is beautifully captured in the documentary Charles Bradley: Soul of America, where you can’t help but be awestruck and inspired at his journey.

After listening through his two albums (2011’s No Time for Dreaming and 2013’s Victim of Love) I couldn’t help but feel like he was preaching from a place of wisdom, love and passion.  His songs are heavy with earnest pleas for reconciliation and the striving for a better world. There are some songs that have overt spiritual tones, but his catalogue goes much deeper and reads like his own collection of Psalms.

Charles Bradley, like most soul and R&B singers, tends to focus on the lamenting of his situation and the world in which he lives, but he also contributes great songs of wisdom, praise and thanksgiving. Like the book of Psalms, when you hear them all together you are able to experience the full range of his experiences.

So here is my feeble attempt at putting together some of Charles Bradley’s songs using the four categories found in the book of Psalms: Laments, Praise, Thanksgiving and Wisdom.

Laments:  These are some of Bradley’s passionate expressions of grief. His heartache about what’s happening within his community and the world at large is palatable as he sings through these songs of desperation. You can sense his frustration with the times as he pleads with the listeners to do something about it.

“Why is it So Hard”

“The World Is Going Up In Flames”

“How Long” (Try reading Psalm 13 in tandem with this one.)

Praise:  Even though he is surrounded by suffering, Bradley finds beautiful moments that bring him joy.  “You Put a Flame On It” is a wonderful song of praise that shows the fullness of life he gets through his relationships.

Thanksgiving: “I thank you, For helping me through the storm. I thank you, For helping me carry on.” Amen and Amen.

“Through the Storm”

Wisdom: In his songs of lament he sings about the issues facing the world, but these are Bradley’s songs that offer the necessary wisdom and encouragement to make it through those hard times. There is a certain amount of “get off your ass and do something” that underscores the immediacy of these calls to action.

“Golden Rule”

“Heartaches and Pain” (a song for his brother)

“No Time for Dreaming”

It doesn’t take much to see how he’s able to incorporate the cries of the spirit with the hope for a better tomorrow. Though he’s about the same age as soul music giants like Al Green and Aretha Franklin, Charles Bradley no longer has to impersonate anyone else from a bygone era. He’s free to be himself and share this legacy with a new audience.