Robert Bradley’s Blackwater Surprise

As roots music finds bigger and younger audiences among jam-band fans and Americana purists (to the consternation of each formerly distinct audience), the whole Robert Bradley experience makes more sense. Roots fans need Bradley, a blind 63-year-old former street musician — his soul, his blues and his ragged, gusting voice busting through like the headwaters of Randy Newman’s intonations. We need that guy, and we also need the young white band doing its damnedest to keep up, to make “soul” seem at least temporarily attainable for someone who’s not 63, not African-American and not world-worn or particularly wise.

The Surprise’s previous release, Time to Discover, duplicated the immensity of a soul revue; New Ground is arena-rock big, huge with layers, open spaces and pockets of little nuances and sounds.

New Ground is also full of anthems, and “Born in America” might do for Bradley what “New York, New York” did for Ryan Adams. It’s so good to be born in America, Bradley sings in a tone destined to bring stadium crowds to tears. He’s not kidding. He lists virtues such as New York City, the Los Angles Dodgers, the Colorado Rockies and Uncle Sam’s never crying, giving his all to a statement Woody Guthrie, Kate Smith, Paul Robeson, Lee Greenwood and Ray Charles could join hands and sing. When New Ground works, it succeeds because it states simple things simply.

Categories: Music