The first time I call Charles Bradley, he's in a hospital taking care of his mother near her home in Brooklyn, New York. He apologizes profusely but asks if I can call him a few hours later when his mom is well enough to go home.
"She needs care-taking — somebody to be here when I'm not here," the 65-year-old soul/funk powerhouse says wearily when we reconnect. "Now we have her home with us and we have some house attendants to watch her when I’m not around."
A strong, mesmerizing American singer and performer who only recently came to fame, Bradley's led a hard knock life, bouncing around Florida, New York, and California. He eventually took up cooking while also working as a James Brown impersonator, which caught the attention of Daptone Records.
As a result, the label released Bradley's debut record at the age of 63 — the critically acclaimed 2011 effort, "No Time for Dreaming." He was also the subject of the 2012 documentary film "Soul of America" about his life and times, and earlier this year he released an excellent new record called "Victim Of Love," which brings him to Canada for shows this week.
There's a tension in his voice today, as the stress of taking care of his ailing mother overwhelms him. The truth is, Bradley is himself no stranger to hospitals, almost dying in one when he was given a dose of penicillin, to which he's allergic.
"I tell you one thing, America needs to get its healthcare a little more greater because Europe, all these other places, they have the [best] healthcare,” he says. "I think we've fallen short of our desires in the United States because people aren't being taken care of right, the way they need to be taken care of."
"I've heard that y'all healthcare and in Europe, Australia — they got the good healthcare," he adds. "I wonder what people working their whole life for. Then they just get old and they really need someone and no one can be there for them."
While his country remains up in arms about the glitches and controversy surrounding the implementation of the Affordable Healthcare Act (a.k.a. Obamacare), Bradley is not quite neutral about it, betraying a fair amount of hopelessness.
"Obamacare's supposed to be working but they're still cutting a lotta things," he explains. "The economy's really messed up right now, God knows. I don't know what to say or what to do. I'm just trying to keep myself healthy and strong and do the right thing. Keep myself going, working and doing the things I want to do because people seem to like what I'm doing."
Just as his hero James Brown eventually felt compelled to speak out about social injustice in his music, Bradley's work does possess a political streak. He suggests that even the title of his new album, "Victim of Love," reveals his disappointment in the level of compassion in the United States — that so many put positive energy into a national identity but don't see a reciprocal response.
"'Confusion' is exactly what we was just talking about; the way the world economy is and politicians doing what they doing," Bradley says, alluding to one of the wildest productions on his new LP. "It's like, 'Wait, some people is taking all the wealth.' Why they trying to stop the middle-class? A lot of the middle class people have fallen by the wayside. A lot of them are living in shelters and they had homes and worked all their lives. What are we doing with the people who helped build this country? Why are we letting them going down so hard, we can't take care of them?
"What is wrong with [the rich]? You already got to where you want to be in life and you're not looking back at the people who actually built this country."
Bradley says he's always been someone who has engaged in the political process by voting but suggests he's reached a point where he no longer knows whom he can trust.
"Obama, I'm not disappointed in him," he explains. "All I'm saying about him is, they put all the dirty work on him and he's supposed to make it right. And he's just human like anybody else. A lot of other presidents, they don't get all this wrongness and corruption and they put it in front of the first black president and said, 'OK, now you're supposed to make it right.'
"If you listen to the words on the record or the song 'Confusion,' I'm only singing the things I see and what I see, I know is for real within my soul," he adds. "In 65 years in this world, I've seen a lot of things and I seen the world is getting better with high-tech things like cell phones and building skyscrapers. It's beautiful, all nice, but at some point it's forgetting about the real true humanity.
"I think the world is forgetting about that and needs to come back down to the real nitty-gritty, the basis of life, and find the love that we all carry inside of us. Because if not, we gonna destroy this world. I don't care how many skyscrapers you build, I don't care how many hi-tech things you build."
As for his own future, Bradley again sounds emotionally exhausted — an artist with much work to do but also a man feeling life's burden.
"They want me to be recording now but right now I gotta focus on my mom; I need to rest and take care of mom. My phone won't stop ringing because I gotta take care of my mom — doctors, nurses calling me to take care of her. I just got so much on my brains right now.
"I'm just trying to keep myself focused on my dreams and try and create my music in my own spirit that I want to come out with," he continues. "But there's so many things that hit me at one time. When I'm here with you, I got somebody else sitting waiting to talk to me right now. I ain't got no breaks and I got to keep going."
Charles Bradley plays the Kool Haus in Toronto on Dec. 12, and Ritual in Ottawa on Dec. 13. Listen to this entire interview on the Kreative Kontrol with Vish Khanna podcast.