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Charles Bradley: Soul of America

By MATTHEW SINGER
[ONE NIGHT ONLY] Apologies to the Dude, but the Eagles saved Charles Bradley’s life. As the 64-year-old soul singer (and MFNW performer) tells it in Pouell Brien’s documentary, he was sitting in a pizza shop in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., after losing his job and getting harassed by the cops, trying to build up the nerve to throw himself in front of a bus and “get out of this body” for good. Then “Take It to the Limit” came on the jukebox. “It seems like it was God talking to me,” says Bradley in his raspy patois, “because I was at the end of my rope.” Actually, it was just rarely touted Eagle Randy Meisner. But the fact remains that, in that moment, Bradley decided to keep pushing, which led, years later, to one of the more remarkable late-period career resuscitations in American music. Soul of America follows the Florida-born, New York-raised artist in the days leading up to the release of his 2011 debut, No Time for Dreaming, easily the most authentic entry in the retro-soul revival. Unlike his backward-gazing peers, Bradley’s music doesn’t feel like it was made to soundtrack a period piece on ’60s R&B. (Although he did, for a time, make his living impersonating James Brown.) His life is a blues song, filled with poverty, death—from his childhood pet chicken to his brother, murdered in a robbery—and suffering; his face appears creased into a permanent expression of anguish. His story doesn’t need much embellishing, and aside from staging a few, largely unobtrusive re-enactments, Brien lets Bradley tell it—and, in the searing live footage, scream it—in his own words.
 

Special Note

Hollywood Theatre. 7:30 pm Wednesday, Aug. 28
 
  • Genres: Biography, Documentary
  • Running Time: 75 minutes
  • Country: United States
  • Language: English
  • Critic's Score: B+
  • Directed by: Poull Brien [Director], Sam Connelly [Producer], Alexander Brough [Producer], Ovasen [Producer], Stuart McCardle [Cinematographer], Poull Brien [Film Editor], Stuart McCardle [Film Editor], Adriana Pacheco [Film Editor]
  • Watch the trailer
 

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