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It’s Friday night on BBC4, so it must be another doc about an old musician. Which this is, but ‘Soul of America’ is much more than your standard musical biopic. It’s 2011, and Bradley, a 62-year-old James Brown impersonator, is just about to release his first record under his own name, courtesy of soul revivalists Daptone Records. He’s also endured a life of extraordinary hardship: a broken home, sleeping on subways, near-fatal illness, the murder of his brother, the everyday hazards of life in the Brooklyn Projects, and a series of near misses in his musical career. His aunt even cooked his pet chicken for dinner.
But, as Poull Brien’s moving, intimate documentary tracks Bradley’s progress from vague ambition to first newspaper article, first record, first video and first sold-out gig, it’s impossible not to get swept up by the delight of this transparently dignified and humble man. Never giving up on your dreams is one of the founding clichés of popular music, but Bradley has lived it and given it poignant new meaning.