This Little Underground: The sweet heat of Charles Bradley

This Little Underground: The sweet heat of Charles Bradley
Christopher Garcia

On Jan. 7, Jeff Kaplan lost his life in a Maryland traffic accident. For years, he was a local sound engineer who kept prime Orlando clubs like the Social and Will's Pub sounding pro until major tours began whisking him away to run sound with increasing frequency. He was also a friend whose deep mark on Orlando's music scene was as much personal as it was professional, and this news is a huge blow to the local community. Thanks for all the real conversations, Jeff. R.I.P.

The Beat

The latest big-deal concert for me was Charles Bradley. I've been tracking his touring for any chance to feel his burn in person ever since his late-start career first sparked nationally in 2011, and Tampa (Jan. 4, Crowbar) was close enough.

Even with a grand seven-piece band behind him, the Gainesville-born singer is a one-man supernova. As true of a James Brown disciple as they come, he came into his own career by impersonating the Godfather himself, and there is probably no closer live channeling of that tough electricity than Bradley. But as his two incredible albums prove, Charles Bradley is his own man.

As soon as he opened his mouth, that was it. His voice – forged hard and perfected by fire – is already transfixing on tape. But in person, it's all-consuming. I can't recall the last time a voice and presence owned me so completely live. It was like some lost bottle of truth only heard about in lore was unearthed and uncorked. It's pure, raw power. But it's more than just natural-born faculty and sweet patina. The ache and desperation that wills it and cuts into you – that's what certifies it. This man's seen and lived through some shit, and you can hear every heartbreak. When he sings, "This whole world is going up in flames," you feel the inferno.

Moreover, even at the age of 66, he performs like his life is on the line. For all meaningful purposes, it is. Even though his dream is now finally coming true, he, of all people, knows it's anything but guaranteed. So he gives it all he's got. In his case, that's a whole lot.

As part of the mighty Daptone tide that lifted some of this generation's best neoclassic soul voices like Sharon Jones, Bradley is a great story that's already gotten the documentary treatment (Soul of America). After a lifetime of paying dues, a deserving man got his star – and with it, he lit up the world around him. When you tally up all those forces, that's a big storm funneled into one man, and it made this show pure levitation.


Orlando's alt-country scene isn't what it used to be, or at least its profile isn't. Although not at the pitch or concentration as in the mid- to late aughts, the talent, however, is still out there. That fact is something the Nashville South series is trying to spotlight. With a little luck and a lot of good curating, maybe this showcase can help bring that scene back to prominence.

A concept of the Modern Music Movement, the organizer behind the Acoustic Soundcheck series at the Imperial (a recent 2014 Undies Award winner for best acoustic night), Nashville South just returned for its third run (Jan. 10, the Social). Besides expanding its horizon slightly to embrace the indie-pop of auspicious local band Sabals (also a 2014 Undies winner as one of the best young acts), the showcase mostly stuck to its twangy premise.

Brian Killeen's songwriter sound traced the sensitive stretches of the back roads, Stephen Rock's dramatic flair conjured its usual Southern gothic hex and Beemo's string band aesthetic mined the soft-core side of young folk.

Of all the roots-minded acts, Slim Walker & His Orchestra stood up best to an irritatingly loud-talking audience. Instead of what the term "country-rock" usually implies, this group is a rather specific blend of country and early rock & roll that sounds like the house band for a cowboy kegger. It's a fun, romping intersection, and the boys have crystallized considerably since I last saw them.

About The Author

Bao Le-Huu

Music columnist.
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