Robert Bradley: No Surprise

Music Features Robert Bradley

It took Robert Bradley until he was 46 to release his first album, but it took him another seven years to put out the record he’s always wanted to make, Still Lovin’ You. After three albums that mixed rock, R&B and even a little hip-hop, Bradley parted ways with the original members of his Blackwater Surprise — the group of Detroit rockers he hooked up with for his self-titled 1996 debut — and made a straight soul album.

“This is more of what I am. Even though we did some soul stuff on the other records, those guys came from rock and had a hard time getting into the R&B,” says Bradley, who thinks of himself as an heir to ’60s soul singers like Johnny Taylor and Bobby Womack. “Songs like ‘Mr. Tony’ and ‘You and Me’ from our second record? That’s what I wanted to do all the time, and those are the songs the fans always ask for. One time a guy got so mad we hadn’t played ‘Governor’ that I had to go back onstage and do it myself, because the band didn’t remember how to do it.”

With a new crew of hand-picked musicians, he filled his fourth album with both new material and songs that date back decades — to when he sang on the street and played clubs in his adopted hometown of Detroit. He wrote the Philadelphia soul-styled title track in 1968, and penned “When You Love Something” in 1975. Of the latter song, he says he set out to record something with a traditional gospel sound. “I always stop when I hear a good choir,” he says. “Not the Winans or these other modern groups. I’m talking about stuff that makes me remember the Soul Stirrers and Five Blind Boys of Alabama.”

Bradley grew up in Alabama, and was singing in Baptist churches by the time he was 11 years old. Later, he hit the coffeehouse and club circuit and then settled down in the Motor City. He says he doesn’t think of music in terms of what’s contemporary versus what’s old school. “I don’t know what’s new and what’s old,” he says. “It doesn’t really matter. Even though I’m 54, I feel like this is my first real album.” — eric schumacher-rasmussen

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