-Charles Bradley’s weathered sound makes hardships all his own on this introspective vocal feature.

The third album by soul artist Charles Bradley begins about as warmly as any album could, with the 67 year old man saying quietly over an organ note, simply:

“Hello, this is Charles Bradley…”

He goes on to say that although his life has been full of hardships, he still loves the country he lives in, and then breaks into a passionate cover of “God Bless America.” It’s charming, it’s warm, it’s sweet, it’s weathered, and it sounds great. Just like the rest of this album.

“Changes,” ironically, doesn’t really change up Bradley’s sound much at all. It’s still vintage sounding soul music with instrumentals played by The Menahan Street Band topped by Bradley’s smoky, soul-invigorating vocals. But when those elements are in such top form, and the writing is as strong as it is, it doesn’t matter that you’ve pretty much heard it before.

One thing that has changed ever so slightly though is the instrumentals. The Menahan Street Band still plays incredibly tightly and in the pocket, still bringing that those shimmering soul guitars, melodic horn lines, and dusty drums, but the production and sound of these instrumentals is a little rougher. The drums are the biggest signal of this change, as they are noticeably harder and fatter, but the horns also sound a little less clean, breaking through the speakers and crackling at higher, louder notes as if the recording can barely sustain the sound. These are all good things, as the instrumentals sound incredibly live and freeflowing, but still with the tight quality that makes The Menahan Street Band a perfect backing band for Bradley’s vocals.

And what vocals they are. Being 67 and at one point being homeless, Charles Bradley sings with the voice of someone who has lived a life and seen some shit. It’s not clean cut, it’s not smooth. It’s pure passion, whether he’s channeling James Brown on the confident “Good to Be Back Home,” the pained wails that soar above the music on “Nobody But You,” or outdoing Ozzy Osbourne on the Black Sabbath cover that gives the album its name. When he’s singing, you know that he’s bearing his entire soul, and with that ability, he takes a classic Sabbath song and makes it his own.

Along with offering up his soul, Bradley is also more often than not offering up great melodies. These songs are beautifully melodic, from the passionate vocals down to the great instrumentals, whether they’re 6/8 classic soul or funky like “Ain’t It a Sin.” Not every song is as great as the last, as the album slows down a bit towards the end, but overwhelmingly, “Changes” is highly enjoyable soul music.

3.5 stars

Standout Tracks: “Nobody But You” “Changes” “Ain’t It a Sin” “Things We Do For Love”