Exclaim!'s Best of 2013: Top 10 Soul and R&B Albums

4. Charles Bradley
Victim of Love

It can be hard to separate the story of Charles Bradley from his music, since it's such a great story: Bradley is a 65-year-old who spent most of his life just trying to avoid living in a subway station, working whatever odd job came his way, until he miraculously rolled his gig as a James Brown impersonator into some Daptone singles, and eventually, his 2011 debut album, No Time For Dreaming. At the age when most people consider retirement, the "Screaming Eagle of Soul" was just getting started.

On his sophomore album, Bradley continues to express himself with the unwavering honesty that made his thematically darker debut such a success. Set over the lush instrumentals of Menahan Street Band, which present a survey of psychedelic soul and fuzz-bomb funk filtered through a Stax lens, the sound of Victim of Love is so perfectly vintage, one might think it to be a reissue. Yet Bradley's gritty, revealing vocals lend an immediacy to this album, the kind of humble introspection and casual comeuppance that made Rodriguez's records sound revolutionary decades after they were released.

Where so many contemporary artists attempt to hybridize the past in search of subgenres that reek of aimless newness, Bradley made an album that sounds specifically aged, successfully avoiding the desperation of trend-chasing as well as the sterilization of mere regurgitation. His voice has that Otis Redding X-factor, that soul-bearing lilt of hard life experience that underscores his heartfelt lyrics and his band's spirited play. Even if one has never heard his story, which is now available in documentary form for easy digestion, the gravity of Victim of Love is easily felt. (Alan Ranta)