Charles Bradley is built like James Brown, sings like James Brown and sweats like James Brown.
Bradley, 63, used to be a James Brown impersonator but, since getting a chance to release an album of his own music last year on Daptone Records, he’s pursuing his own career.
In his headline gig Thursday at the Fine Line Music Cafe, Florida-born, Brooklyn-based Bradley demonstrated that he is a gritty soul shouter in the tradition of Brown and Wilson Pickett, with a little bit of Otis Redding-style pleading, as well. He quickly proved to be an exciting entertainer, dropping to his knees to sing on his first number. He’s got all the James Brown moves down, the struts, shimmeys and even the splits — and the screams. All that was missing were the frequent growls of "Good gawds."
In his 60 minutes onstage, Bradley focused on material from his album, "No Time for Dreaming" (which has been receiving some attention on the Current), including "Heartaches and Pain" and a Memphis-soul reading of Neil Young’s "Heart of Gold." Sometimes it felt as if Bradley was more about the performance than the songs, but his grunts, shouts and general James Brown-isms were passionate and exhilarating.
Bradley gave his seven-member Extraordinaires plenty of solo opportunities, especially during a long, filler jam near the end of the night that should have been titled "Philabusta." Overall, the band wasn’t as tight, crisp and funky as the similarly retro Dap-Kings, who play with Sharon Jones.
After witnessing this entertaining and sometimes exciting performance, I’d love to see Charles Bradley do his James Brown show.