If Wilson Pickett could cover the Archies and Al Green could interpret the Bee Gees, why shouldn't Charles Bradley put his spin on Black Sabbath? Bradley's deep, soulful reading of Black Sabbath's "Changes" (from 1972's Vol. 4) became something of a viral sensation when it first surfaced on a Record Store Day single in 2013. Now it's become the title track and cornerstone of Bradley's third album, and in this context it doesn't sound like a novelty, but like the striking, deeply felt performance it truly is. As on his two previous albums, Bradley is one of the most authentic-sounding artists in the 2010s retro-soul sweepstakes on Changes. The production by Thomas Brenneck is straightforward but naturalistically effective, and puts Bradley's rough but passionate vocals in engaging relief with the accompanists. (Most of the album features the Menahan Street Band backing Bradley, though the Budos Band does the honors on two cuts.) Most of the songs on Changes are new, but they sound like they could have been prize Atlantic or Stax rarities from the mid-'60s, and the performances honor the sound and the emotional power of classic soul. Bradley spent years imitating James Brown, and the influence of Mr. Dynamite is still audible on many of these tunes. But since he launched his belated recording career, Bradley has developed a greater sense of self and more confidence in his own musical personality. On Changes, the rough-hewn power of Bradley's voice is at its most powerful, and there's a fierce sense of longing and need in this music that's almost tactile in its realism. Charles Bradley doesn't sound like a '60 soul singer, he sounds like a great soul singer regardless of era. And Changes shows Bradley still has plenty of new ground to explore at the age of 68. That's a lot more than one can say for the other guy who sang "Changes," Ozzy Osbourne.
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