New Ground

Robert Bradley's Blackwater Surprise

Vanguard Records, 2002

REVIEW BY: Duke Egbert


One of the joys of this job is to get something in the mail that you've never heard of but blows your socks off. Robert Bradley's Blackwater Surprise has, as a fact, knocked my socks into the next room.

The story's almost too cliché. A group of younger musicians discovers a blind musician busking in downtown Detroit and asks him up to the studio. They form a band in 1991, record two CDs in '91 and '96, and then go their separate ways. Finally in 2001, two members reform a new band for what can only be described as a triumphant return. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 New Ground may, indeed, be new ground, but it's also pretty damn fertile ground.

The aforementioned busker is Alabama native Robert Bradley, born sightless in 1950. His musical career started early, going from singing gospel and R&B in the mid-sixties South to the urban blues and Motown sound of Detroit in the late sixties and seventies. Mix in time in California at the Braille Institute of America where he sang a cappella by day and rock by night and close to two decades of travels across the United States by Greyhound bus and thumb, and you have a man who not only tells stories with his music, but who has a lot of stories to tell.

After twenty years of busking in Detroit's Eastern Market, Bradley joined drummer Jeff Fowlkes and brothers Michael and Andrew Nehra in Blackwater Surprise. For New Ground, the Nehras have moved on, replaced by guitarist Matt Ruffino (who the band had worked with on a video), bassist Tom Wilber (formerly of Shannon Curfman's band), and keyboardist Randy Sly.

And there's no getting around it: Blackwater Surprise is good. I mean, really good. The kind of good R&B and roots-rock fans tell each other about with a surprised catch in their voice. Bradley's gravel-and-rust vocals tell perfect vignettes, backed up by some damn tasty musicianship -- and accented by the sheer fictiveness of the band's mere existence. If Robert Bradley and Blackwater Surprise didn't exist, someone would have to invent them; either they're damned liars or there are more funny stories about this band than most five musical acts. (An example: the opening single, "Train", was written because someone gave a band member an upright piano with broken keys that only played in C. So they wrote a song on it.)

Tracks of note: "Lindy", "Feel The Fire", "See Her"…oh, heck. There isn't a bad track on this CD. Stop wasting your time with people who think they can tell stories; go out and get Robert Bradley's Blackwater Surprise and discover a band whose stories are all their own.

Rating: A

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2002 Duke Egbert and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Vanguard Records, and is used for informational purposes only.