The first time I ever laid eyes on Charles Bradley, he was dressed in a blue jump suit doing splits on the second largest stage at Chicago’s Lollapalooza festival in 2013. On a weekend that saw The Killers, The Cure, Nine Inch Nails and Munford and Sons, it was a sixty-four year-old Stax-styled soul crooner that proved to be the most remarkable from the festival.

Bradley spent most of his life as a James Brown impersonator before his solo career began to take off in his fifties. Signed to Daptone Records, his albums were a time machine to the past where you could feel every instrument swell from your speakers. If you heard his music on the radio, you would assume it was from the sixties.

Bradley sadly died in 2017 of stomach cancer at the age of sixty-eight, but before he passed, he left us with three of the most illuminating albums of the decade. His 2016 album, Changes took its title from his cover of the Black Sabbath’s song. Bradley was no stranger to making Neil Young and Nirvana songs his own, but he reached a new level of artistry with his cover of “Changes”.

Originally released in 1972 on Sabbath’s ‘Vol. 4’, the song stood out for a heavy metal band known for its apocalyptic sounds. The ballad featured one of Ozzy Osbourne’s best vocals, the most revealing lyrics Geezer Butler would ever commit to paper. And Tony Iommi’s guitar is silent while he leads the band on the piano and Mellotron. Inspired by the break-up of drummer Bill Ward’s marriage, “Changes” was a song that was refreshing not just for how it sounded, but for the vulnerability exhibited by Sabbath. It’s a perfect song I never felt could be improved upon, until Charles Bradley brought the entirety of his life to the microphone stand.

Bradley has lived through hardships that no one should ever have to endure, many of which are documented wonderfully in the great documentary Charles Bradley: The Soul of America.  On “Changes” he had something the members of Sabbath didn’t have at the time of the original recording, a lifetime of experiences and a rear-view mirror full of memories. This wasn’t merely a cover song he was singing, it was his life. With every note, he pours his ache, sorrow and knowledge into the recording. As you listen to the swell of the organ, the delicate brushing of the drums and the glistening guitar, Bradley is allowed to sing about more than just his life to that moment, but what’s ahead.

It is not known if he knew of his medical condition when recording his version in late 2015, but it’s almost as if he’s looking towards the next chapter. Bradley’s voice is a balm to in a world full of wickedness and on every verse he finds a way to transcend the song to a higher power with his gentle and grieving voice. Bradley’s weary voice is one of a life a very well lived where you can hear him acknowledging the final chapter that would soon befell him. “Changes” provides us a glimpse into the soul of a man who has lived through desperation and somehow found a way, through music, to his own salvation.

Check out Charles Bradley covering Black Sabbath’s “Changes” here:

Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer and Special Features Editor for the antiMUSIC Network. His daily writings can be read at The Screen Door. He can be contacted at tonyk AT antiMUSIC DOT com and can be followed on Twitter


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