Published May 30, 2013The transformative power of music is such that it often grows from the seeds of poverty and heartache, like a flower through the cracks in the pavement. How else to explain the unlikely emergence of 62-year-old Brooklyn soul singer Charles Bradley? Following Bradley in the days leading up to his debut album's release in 2011, Charles Bradley: Soul of America tells the kind of inspirational tale that's hard to resist and rare from a music industry that often values artifice over substance.
Jumping back and forth between rehearsals and concerts of material from his breakthrough album, No Time For Dreaming, and the story of just how Bradley went from being a homeless teen and, later, a James Brown impersonator to a recording artist on Daptone Records, there's a great deal of ground to cover. Fortunately, the movie does a nice job of having the songs dovetail into the anecdotes of his younger days, allowing viewers to see just how much of Bradley is present in the album.
The central relationship in his life is the one with his mom, as he spends much of his time cooking her food and fretting about keeping a roof over her head. As if it wasn't easy enough to root for a man that cares so deeply for his mother, he's shown throughout the film to be nothing less than humble and genuine with loved ones and strangers alike.
Some of the more interesting scenes involve guitarist Tommy Brenneck discussing the songwriting process between he and Bradley. Though Bradley has a tutor who assesses his reading and writing skills to be at a first grade level, that didn't stop Brenneck from being able to help him express his emotions through song. The performances of their collaborations are certainly some of the highlights, with Bradley's sublime voice carrying the kind of hard-won wisdom that can't be translated into words.
While it was obvious before even a frame of this documentary was shot that this story would have a happy ending for a deserving figure like Bradley, it's the small moments of gratitude from him along the way that make it heart-warming nonetheless.
Whether it's the time he takes on-stage to thank some old friends in the audience or his inability to hide his excitement as he shows a story about him in the newspaper to anyone on the street who cares to stop, there's little doubt that he's relishing every moment of this unexpected success late in life. (Kinosmith)