may 2009

Robert Bradley's Blackwater Surprise
Quarter2Three Records

Channeling latter-era Ray Charles in his gritty, expressive voice, Robert Bradley makes a major statement right off the bat in the album opening title track of his new album, when he moans, "Well, I'm outta the wilderness, out on my own" as a tough, snarling blues band sets into a menacing, rich groove behind him, bolstered by producer Bruce Robb's steadily humming B3 and Matthew J. Ruffino's snarling, serpentine guitar lines. The sound is bold, full, no-frills and very southern. In the title track Bradley recounts a wanderer's life (name checking Stevie Ray Vaughan in one of his encounters in Austin), searching for something more real than what he had. Then he spends the rest of the album staking his claim to his revitalized soul. In the advance press on the album Bradley says he aimed to "sing straight like Jim Reeves on 'Put Your Sweet Lips a Little Closer To the Phone.' I wanted to do a record that was innocent." However noble Bradley's intent, he's too worldly to buy into too much innocence as a good thing. Case in point: the churning R&B of "Beautiful Girl" is a backdrop for, at once, a celebration of a young lady's many charms and a cautionary word about the dangers lurking ahead, as he cries, "Before you leave home/you better wake up, beautiful girl." Things get more complicated from there. Despite its upbeat title, the grim and grinding "Good Times In My Life" is a litany of hard times—Bradley sings of being homeless, penniless and on welfare, seeking comfort in a church, while at the same time confessing his love for "the ladies of the night/the ones that treat me right/for my money," which would seem not to, say, scan given the multitude of woes afflicting him, but there is most certainly an innocence in his simple longing for companionship any old way you choose it—a theme he revisits in the album's penultimate song, "Gotta Find Me a Woman," a slow, churning heartbreaker about being bereft of female companionship after his companion walked out. (Hard to believe that an artist so deeply invested as Bradley is in Ray Charles didn't conceive this as the dark side of the "I Got a Woman" story.) You can feel the tenderness and longing in his voice when he reflects on how he used to see "Heaven shining in your eyes" in the mornings, and the ache when he cries out, "I've been lonely, so alone," and yearns for a lady to share his home and pray with him "by the light of the moon." When he speaks of needing a woman to lay with him in his bed, it becomes a plea for something more fundamental and spiritually resonant than mere sex. Having a companion to walk through the world with him is only half of the Bradley solution. In the poignant ballad "Alabama" it's clear how important home is to him as well—not a building, but a geographical place where he feels at one with the land under his feet. The counterweight to "Alabama" is the funky, wah-wah inflected stomp of "Americaland," wherein he ruminates over how to straighten out his life in a song lacking a straight narrative line—he jumps from his own problems to worrying about his cousin in Vietnam to bemoaning his low paying job to name checking family members and even "Brother Ray"—which nonetheless emphasizes both the hard times he endures in his native land even as he vows to make his stand here. It's only fitting, after all this, that he closes the album by returning to '70s funk drive in "Everybody Wanna Party," wherein he issues a final come-on to a "pretty lady" to join him in some summertime frolics. Considering how far we've traveled with Bradley, yes, everybody needs to party. Now out of his personal wilderness, maybe Bradley's even the one to show us how. Sounds like a good place to start the next record. —David McGee

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (
Website Design: Kieran McGee (
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY;, Alicia Zappier (New York)
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024