Posthumous releases by soul singer Charles Bradley and rapper Lil Peep, both of whom died in 2017, will stir fans and maybe win a few new ones.
A- Charles Bradley
Charles Bradley was past 60 when he released his first album with Daptone, and his death from cancer a year ago robbed soul music of one of its most expressive, exuberant singers and performers.
Black Velvet collects 10 songs recorded mostly during sessions for his three solo albums, its title coming from Bradley’s nickname when fronting a James Brown cover band.
It’s also an instrumental tune written by producer Thomas Brenneck and his Menahan Street Band, and the only track not to feature Bradley, who was too weak by then to add vocals. Instead, it’s now a poignant tribute.
Including mostly originals co-written by Bradley, the album opens with deep romance in the soul and funk of “Can’t Fight the Feeling,” “I Feel a Change” and “Luv Jones,” the latter a duet with LaRose Jackson, whose forthcoming solo debut should be one to watch for.
Near the end, “Fly Little Girl” is little gem of a farewell song that’s reconciled with its fate instead of bitter, while an electric version of “Victim of Love,” originally on Bradley’s second album, is smoother and even more devastating.
In between, three covers complete the set. A straight-and-true version of Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold,” “Slip Away” from Rodriguez — another musician who found fame late — and Nirvana’s “Stay Away,” probably the clearest instance of Bradley’s James Brown influence.
Like Sharon Jones’ posthumous Soul of a Woman from 2017 — she arrived at Daptone around the same time as Bradley and some of her Dap-Kings are also in the Menahan Street Band — Black Velvet reflects immense talent and dedication.
It’s an opportunity to grieve and a chance to value an all-too-brief recording career in which Bradley gave his all.
Hot tracks: “Can’t Fight the Feeling,” “Luv Jones,” “Fly Little Girl, “Stay Away”
B+ Lil Peep
Come Over When You’re Sober, Pt. 2
On late rapper Lil Peep’s second studio album, the first release since his November 2017 death, the young artist takes fans on a singsongy journey through a familiar haze of themes — death, drugs, isolation and broken relationships, among them. The topics loom large over every languorous turn of Come Over When You’re Sober, Pt. 2, making the set a natural follow-up to Peep’s 2017 studio debut.
Sonically, the albums are quite similar — somber but melodic, hovering at the intersection of where emo meets rap. A toxic combination of prescription drugs resulted in Peep’s death at age 21, so on his new album his lyrics aren’t just typical sad-rap fare, they give a glimpse into real-life tragedy. “It comes a time, everybody meets the same fate/I think I’m gonna die alone inside my room,” Peep sings on the introspective standout track “Life Is Beautiful.”
When he sings “I gotta go right now” on album opener “Broken Smile (My All),” Peep’s words carry the weight of a prediction proven true. Peep’s sorrow is sugar-coated by peppy beats.
From the head-bob-inducing “16 Lines” to the bittersweet “Sex with My Ex,” one emotional song seems to roll into the next, ending with final track “Fingers,” where Peep signs off with these final bars: “I’m not gonna last here/I’m not gonna last long.”
As a whole, Come Over When You’re Sober, Pt. 2 serves as a soft bed for wallowing in dark thoughts. Some will find it a relatable respite, while others will count it as a tough space to be in.
Hot tracks: “Life Is Beautiful,” “Broken Smile (My All),” “Cry Alone”
B Michael Buble
Michael Buble stepped away from his career to help take care of son Noah, who was diagnosed with cancer in 2016.
With his boy recovering, the Canadian crooner has returned with a new album and a tour starting in February. The album love (represented by a red heart on the album cover) sounds like a new start for Buble, who has won four Grammys since his 2003 major-label debut by relying on a well-chosen mix of jazz standards and pop songs.
David Foster in back the producer’s chair and most of the tunes are evergreens, including “When I Fall Love,” “Unforgettable,” “When You’re Smiling” and “I Only Have Eyes for You.” Buble sounds totally at ease with the repertoire and the arrangements, which hearken back to the ’50s and ’60s.
K r i s K r i s t o f f e r s o n ’s “Help Me Make It Through the Night” has a Mariachi mood and vocal accompaniment from Loren Allred, while Buble duets with Cecile McLorin Salvant on “La Vie En Rose.” The only song co-written by Buble is “Forever Now,” clearly a message of love to Noah.
A pair of tunes come from the 1937 Rodgers and Hart musical Babes in Arms — an ominous-sounding “My Funny Valentine” fit for a spy movie and “Where or When,” the album closer where Buble seems to achieve a degree of catharsis, really ripping loose on the last notes.
Hot tracks: “La Vie En Rose,” “Unforgettable,” “Forever Now,” “Where or When”