Robert Bradley's Blackwater Surprise

Time to Discover (RCA)

 Robert Bradley's Blackwater Surprise
Time to Discover
(RCA)
When Robert Bradley's Blackwater Surprise released its self-titled debut back in 1996, three friends borrowed the disc from me on separate occasions and not one got around to returning it. So I should have known better than to bring an advance copy of the band's sophomore effort, Time to Discover, to my poker game. Because it was -- and I mean immediately, after one listen -- borrowed by my friend Pete, who promised on his mother's grave that he would return it the next week and whom I have not seen since.

I can't really blame the guy. RBBS makes music so powerfully enjoyable it inspires theft.

Bradley himself is a blind soul singer from Alabama who has a voice along the lines of Ray Charles, that silky gravel baritone that manages to convey about 50 times as much emotion as the crap you hear on the radio. His backing band, led by the brothers Nehra (guitarist Michael and bassist Andrew), is a muscular young R&B quartet that creates the sort of relaxed, bluesy environments that allow Bradley to spread his wings and soar.

"Mr. Tony" finds Bradley rising into falsetto, à la Otis Redding, on a wash of Motown strings. "Gambler" jukes along to Michael Nehra's slinky guitar riff, while a trio of gospel singers provides joyous, wailing support for Bradley. "Uncle John" has the same tent-revival feel, this time accented by Tim Diaz's luscious, plinky organ fills. The ballads here ("You & Me" and "Ultimate Sacrifice") have the slow, grinding feel of a long night of love. Throughout the disc's dozen tracks, Andrew Nehra's chunky bass lines and Jeff Fowlkes' crisp drum work keep the low end locked. Not even the presence of fellow Motor City denizen Kid Rock can throw Bradley off stride. Rock adds the expected hip-hop flourish to "Higher," but Bradley still chews the Kid to pieces and spits out the pebbles.

Bottom line: This is the best album of the year, by a country mile. It's so good you may want to think twice before playing it for friends. -- Steve Almond

 
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