Song Of The Week: Charles Bradley—“Changes”

By James Li

The classics never go out of style, especially as far as soul music goes – names like Marvin and Aretha are as immortal as it gets. Top 40 hit-makers still mine Motown, Stax, and doo-wop records for ideas. Even a more traditional take on R&B has its place in the mainstream, as is being proven by Leon Bridges’ overnight success. And Bridges’ isn’t the only one spearheading a return to soul:  Daptone Records – a label that hosts the likes of Sharon Jones, Lee Fields, and Charles Bradley –  dedicates itself to recreating the sound and feel of ‘60s soul, right down to its decision to record on analog tape only.

What Daptone’s critics (and fans) point out immediately is how strongly indebted it is to previous generations. It is a viable concern: when your music borrows so much from the past, it can be hard to situate it in the present. Despite its title, Charles Bradley’s cover of Black Sabbath’s “Changes” doesn’t offer many modifications to the revivalist formula. It’s a classic example of a slow-burning soul ballad. Bradley is backed his “Afro-soul” labelmates The Budos Band, but they tone down their experimental bent in favour of a simple arrangement: some guitar here, the hum of an organ there, and a little bit of brass on top.

DAPT41LP.jpg

Album Art for Changes

However, while Bradley might play things straight, “Changes” still manages to disrupt expectations. Choosing a Black Sabbath ballad to cover is in itself a bold move, but Bradley transforms it the same way Johnny Cash did when he covered Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt”. At the centre of the song is Bradley’s weathered howl and his -reinterpretation of Sabbath’s lyrics to reflect the changes in his life since the death of his mother. In the music video, Bradley looks into the camera and doesn’t open his mouth, letting his facial expression speak volumes for him. It comes across as a much more emotionally direct performance than Osbourne’s was on the original.

Charles Bradley doesn’t exactly reinvent the wheel when it comes to soul music – considering he started his musical career as a James Brown impersonator, he doesn’t stray far from his influences. And while he doesn’t change much on “Changes”, he plays up the changes he does make for a huge effect. If this isn’t the best new soul song right now, then it’s certainly in the running for best Black Sabbath cover.

 

Featured Photo via Rolling Stone

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