Robert Bradley's Blackwater Surprise

Out of the Wilderness

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Out of the Wilderness is Robert Bradley's fifth album, and although it's been nearly a half-dozen years since he released one, he still has a fascinatingly hard-to-pin-down style, one that mixes elements of gospel, soul, pop and garage rock into a heartfelt version of blues rock that flirts with the country side of the tracks on occasion. There might be a little Motown in there, too, and considering that Alabama native Bradley was street singing in Detroit when he was discovered, it makes a lot of sense. This new set isn't that different in sound from Bradley's previous outings, but it feels just a little bit more like a personal statement, and there are some beautiful performances here, all highlighted by Bradley's unique voice, which sounds at times like everybody from Tom Waits, Tom Petty, or Randy Newman to a broken-down, hoarse but still soulful Ray Charles. Bradley's songs aren't strikingly brilliant or anything, but when he sings them, a kind of refreshing sincerity and honesty lift up from them, and what might sound simple, trite, or clich├ęd in the hands of another singer becomes surprisingly poignant. At his best, Bradley just sounds downright wise. There are several clear gems on this new outing, which was produced by keyboardist Bruce Robb, who also produced Bradley's 2003 album Still Lovin' You, including the lead-off (and title) track, "Out of the Wilderness," a scruffy blues that might have fit neatly on Tom Waits' Mule Variations, the simple, poignant, and dignified "Good Times in My Life," "Don't Pour Water," a harsh, hard slab of garage blues, and the impressive "Alabama," a beautifully ragged waltz that sounds like a great lost Randy Newman song. Sure, some of the songs fall a little to the generic side at times, but Bradley's voice usually manages to redeem whatever is there, and this is easily one of his best efforts. He might not be reaching for the moon and stars musically, but there's no denying that Bradley's in touch with his own heart on songs like "Alabama," which sounds more and more like a classic with each listen. In the end, Out of the Wilderness feels like a personal statement, American in every true sense of the word, completely free of pretense, raggedly soulful, and as sturdy, real, and honest as the day is long. Where is anything like this on American Idol?

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