HOW IS IT possible in America, supposedly the world’s biggest meritocracy, that a man of Charles Bradley’s talent could remain unsigned until age 63? The soul-funk singer’s debut, No Time For Dreaming, is too good to be a one-time wonder, and perhaps in the days of TV talent shows and little boys getting famous from their bedrooms we don’t have to worry about such a musical tragedy recurring.

But Bradley, who’s best songs are political in the Gil-Scott Heron vein, sees little change in the ”cold cold world” that left him shuffling between menial jobs for 40 years. ”Why is it so hard to make it in America?,” he wonders in one song. And ”nobody wants to take the blame. Is it you? Is it me?” he asks in another.

If this isn’t made album of the year, it’s you, dear reader.

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