If 2011's No Time For Dreaming was the dark soul introduction to the world of Charles Bradley, this year's Victim of Love is the light heart of the matter, a raw and psychedelic look at soul from the vintage perspective of "The Screaming Eagle of Soul." More than merely a soul revivalist, the former James Brown impersonator delivers a deeply honest and straightforward project, backed by his highly capable Menahan Street Band and slathered with the now trademark Daptone retro-soul sauce. Victim of Love is meant to be taken literally, a rare and continued opportunity for a sexagenarian to finally get his chance in the soulful sun – something the album proves that he's both appreciative of and not taking lightly.
Was there a sense of urgency around releasing this album relatively soon after your 2011 debut?
The first album was more about me coming out of the dark, into the light. Letting people know me not only as an artist but as a person. And that's the truth that I've been giving them. I'm giving them the depths of my soul — it's hard sometimes when I get into the spirit because I get a little emotional sometimes and be feeling what I'm saying.
You have a relationship and familiarity of being in Canada. What are your memories of Canada?
Canada is the one that gave me the opportunity. Because now I'm just starting to get recognized in the States. I had to come all the way into Canada and going to Europe to get my name out there. They're the ones who gave me that helping hand. That's why I love Canada and why I love Europe.
Have you gotten a chance to watch your documentary, Soul of America?
I have not.
Is it hard to see yourself on screen? Hard putting yourself out there?
I started to watch it. The interview when they went to Florida to visit my uncle and the interview with my mom, a lot of things were said that I never knew. The rawness that was coming out and the truth was coming out — the truth hurts. I had to walk out. I couldn't do it. You go through a lot of changes in your life and you can't see it but you can feel it. But now when they put it in a picture where you can look at it and see it? No. I can't do it.
What did you aim to accomplish with Victim of Love?
I know my family has been torn apart by a lot of things that they've been through. I can go back in my life and say that I've seen a lot of things. I know a lot of things need to be corrected. I know a lot of us have been stripped down from who we are. With this opportunity that I have now, before I couldn't speak to say what was on my mind. So now that I'm open and get a chance to explore and express myself. And I'm doing it in a humble and gentle way to let the world and the ones who know they did wrong that it's time to change their ways.
Your life has been characterized by the themes of redemption, of forgiveness. How did you get to that point? Were you angry and how did you stop being that way?
It's a good place to stay in God. That's been my place. If I didn't have that, I'd be in someplace pushing up daisies or in somebody's jail. But the strength of God in my soul is what guided me. And my grandmother, I've got to give her credit. One time I told my grandmother that there's just too much pressure in this world; she looked down and picked up a piece of charcoal, saying if you go under pressure and keep a clean heart and mind that piece of charcoal will turn to be a precious diamond. So when you go under pressure, just remember that she told me. Keep your heart clean. Keep your mind clean. And God will do the rest for you.
Did you ever imagine that you would be in this place, career-wise?
I honestly was on the edge of giving up. Because I was going through a very deep depression. My brother had gotten killed and I was going through all this stuff. My family was being torn away and going their separate ways. But this opportunity came with this music when [producer and co-songwriter] Tom Brenneck told me to come into his studio. He told me that he would record me but it took five years before he ever did it. I was always hearing that people wanted to record me because everyone loved seeing me do my James Brown. No one was beating me doing it because I've been doing James Brown ever since I was 16 years old. When you keep doing something you learn to master it.
Who do you make music for?
The young generation coming who need guidance. But there's a little taste there for everybody. When you know the righteousness or the wrongness inside you, it's for you too. You know when you hear something that's real and from the heart and what's false. I'm not false. So I'm out there to open my heart and let it free to speak with truth. Putting it with music and putting it out. I had to bite my tongue and grit my teeth a lot to get where I'm at. But I'm just starting at the age of 63 to get there. And even now I'm still growing to get myself to that point. I just keep my mind and my heart on God.
What has the touring experience been like? How do you keep the energy up and going?
Well I don't hang out with the guys in the band when they go out partying or drinking. When I know that I've got 30 shows ahead of me it's not for me. I have to give each show the same each time out. How I do that is by keeping my mind and heart clean. When I walk off the stage I thank God for the energy and wisdom he gives me. I've learned how to take care of myself.
What inspires you at this point in your career?
I want to be able to build me a dynamic band and show the world who I really am. I had to go through a lot of things and I still haven't gotten to where I want to be at. I know some really dynamic musicians that got nothing but deep soul and never got a chance. I want to reach back in the hood who know how to bring music out. I want to reach back and share the love.
How do you define success then?
Success only comes when you feel it in the heart. I've come in with an honest heart. And that's why it took so long. When goodness comes from the heart, no one is going to give me that goodness but God. That's what I believe.
So you still have more stories to tell?
Oh yes. Holding back until the time to touch somebody's hand who I really want to touch. I'm not just a person who wants to give on the stage to have a good time. I'm a person who wants to get on stage to open my soul. I want to show the world that a lot a good people have been held back.
How did the Victim of Love album actually come together?
A lot of things that I do, I don't really get too much of a chance to do it the way I want. I do it the way they want because they're giving me the opportunity. I have to accept that. The only way where I'm truly and emotionally myself is when I'm on that stage. Sometime I be rejected because when my spirit opens I'm on a deeper level. Tom, he's gotten to know me and understand that I'm coming from a deeper light. He's come from a middle class, mother and father worked every day. Me, I didn't come from that world. I hardly knew my mother and never knew my father. So the only thing that I had to hold on to was what I believe in and my faith in God.
Do you feel that you are in a good place right now? What makes you happy besides being onstage?
Right now I'm still in my solitude on that. It makes me angry that it took so long to get where I'm at. And I'm still kind of struggling to get where I want to be at. I'm still hesitant of what to say and how to bring the words out. But I'm truly beginning to learn and come out on faith. I'm still trying to get in touch with my inner spirit to know how I am.
What do you want people to take away from the album?
Victim of love: I am that. If I'm been through all the trials and tribulations — where state troopers stripped me and took me of my identity and police stuck me down, did me wrong, and there's no way I could go into court and fight for it because they had the upper hand — the only person who I could have run to is my God in heaven, who I believe in. All I'm trying to say is that righteousness comes from within. I don't care how great you are or what you do as a human being. I want to use myself to help those people out there who were out that like I was. I want to tell them don't give up on their dreams and tell them trust in God and hold their faith. Go after what you want in life and if God sees fit you will get that blessing.