A lot has happened in the life of soul singer Charles Bradley since his stellar debut, No Time for Dreaming, was issued in 2011. He has not only received attention, but the album sold well, and he's toured extensively. His compelling story is also the subject of a documentary film. The songs he co-wrote with Thomas Brenneck on that recording were steeped in his autobiography and reflected Southern soul music as it was recorded at Stax and Muscle Shoals in the middle of the '60s. Victim of Love is not so much a departure from that sound as a progression of it. These tunes, once more co-written by the pair, reflect the soul's evolution as it approached the end of the decade. The material is less dark in its vision -- perhaps reflecting the turn in Bradley's life circumstances -- but is no less poignant. His voice is no less gritty, his scream no less heart wrenching, his emotion no less forthcoming. Opener "Strictly Reserved for You" has an uptown, funky bass line and fuzztone guitar. The sweet backing vocals soften Bradley's wrenching toughness enough to make it vulnerable. "Let Love Stand a Chance" is brimming with a slow burning tenderness that beseeches the absent beloved to hear him out. One has to wonder who could refuse a request so searingly rendered. "Where Do We Go from Here" and "Confusion" are drenched in urgent, bristling, psychedelic funk, with wah-wah guitars, fuzzed-out bass, and organ. "Love Bug Blues," is a roiling soulful blues. "You Put the Flame on It," with its uplifting interaction between singer and backing chorus, and underscored by horns, weds world-weariness and optimism. "Hurricane" finds Bradley flanked by horns and B-3 on one side and his backing chorus on the other. He's testifying to the calamities and darkness in the human heart -- with some wild phase shifting on the instrumental backing. The set ends with "Through the Storm" -- it's spiritual soul that could easily be taken as an offering of gratitude to fans. The shimmering guitars, vibes, and slippery, funky snare, frame the horns which in turn accent Bradley's absolute conviction that he's come through the worst. Victim of Love showcases growth -- and a sound not heard before on Daptone -- while not straying from the gritty soul that established the singer; it is every bit as strong as its predecessor and more diverse. You just can't get enough of the real thing.
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