Robert Bradley’s Blackwater Surprise

Every rock generation loves a good human interest story, preferably involving some combination of poverty, physical disadvantage and racial discrimination. Robert Bradley, whose funk-blues music has taken hold with the current crop of jam-rock fans, has endured all three — but rather than play those cards, he prefers to shunt the past and let his music do the talking.

With:
Musicians: Robert Bradley. Michael Nehra, Andrew Nehra, Jeff Fowlkes.

Every rock generation loves a good human interest story, preferably involving some combination of poverty, physical disadvantage and racial discrimination. Robert Bradley, whose funk-blues music has taken hold with the current crop of jam-rock fans, has endured all three — but rather than play those cards, he prefers to shunt the past and let his music do the talking.

At this, the opening date of a club tour to promote his latest RCA album, “Time to Discover,” Bradley and his band hit the stage with bravado, sliding from nice and easy to nice and rough with unforced grace. The only negative was the brevity of the set, which was blamed on the venue’s room-turnover policy.

The fifty-ish Bradley, blind since birth, is a surprisingly physical presence onstage, with a fluid voice to match. While he heaped on plenty of gutbucket grit on songs like “Shake It Off” and the slap-bass enhanced “Ride,” Bradley was just as likely to unleash a heavenly falsetto like the one that buoyed the New Orleans styled soul stirrer “Gambler.”

Having hired on a brace of backing singers for this evening only, Bradley and company seemed determined to make the most of their presence — which led to the airing of more ballads than usual. And while the band came across a bit too restrained vamping through “For the Night,” Bradley positively soared.

Bradley’s finely-hewn vocals are remarkably well suited to those quieter moments, but this set indicated that the Blackwater Surprise is changing its focus to more standard blues-rock fare. They’re perfectly adequate at playing that game, but much like Michael Jordan shifting his tack to the baseball diamond, the move is a perplexing one indeed.

Robert Bradley’s Blackwater Surprise

Shine; New York; 250 capacity; $13

Production: Presented by Metropolitan Entertainment. Reviewed April 18, 2000.[###]

Cast: Musicians: Robert Bradley. Michael Nehra, Andrew Nehra, Jeff Fowlkes.

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