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Listening back to Bradley's first album, you hear a man making something, building something, out of the inchoate emotions of a lifetime. When he sings "Heartaches and Pain," his words matter, but it's the sum of everything he's lived, everything he's seen, fused white-hot into his voice and the urgency of a brilliant funk band.

For his second album, Victim of Love, released last month on the Daptone label, Bradley and his collaborator Brenneck draw on rock and pop influences, from creamy Motown vocal harmonies to Curtis Mayfield-esque psychedelic soul. At the core are Bradley's growls and pleas, expressions of unalloyed joy and agonizing confusion. The sound may be richer and more detailed than his first album, but the songs are just as spontaneous.

"For this album, we came up with a lot of it on tour," Bradley says. "I remember one mic check when Tom grabbed a guitar and started playing something. I liked it and just began ad-libbing words to the melody. When I went back to New York, we listened to what we recorded on those tours, and we picked what we liked to make the album."

In the end, Charles Bradley's late-in-life success should never have happened. In his American story, pure chance and sheer will come together for a sound and a presence that can arrest an audience and make them believe that the promise is still worth the believing — and still very much worth the dreaming.

"Every night, I try to perform like it's my last day on earth," Bradley says. "If I can feel it deeply, if the band is really cooking, if I can feel the music in my heart, I can go some place. I can go past my bounds. It just comes out of my heart. All I can say is, when I come to town I'm going to open my heart and give you all I got."

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