A look back at Time to Discover by Robert Bradley’s Blackwater Surprise

At the beginning this month a big news story broke about a homeless man with a golden voice. 

Ex-radio announcer Ted Williams was discovered on the streets of Columbus, Ohio, and became an overnight sensation.

Honestly, I wasn’t too wrapped up in Williams’ story, but it did remind me of another in a similar situation.

In 1994, members of the alternative band Second Self discovered a blind street performer outside their Detroit recording studio. 

The band recruited the singer to form Robert Bradley’s Blackwater Surprise, and released their eponymous debut the same year.

The debut album was well-received, mainly for its standouts – “California” and “Once Upon a Time” in particular. 

While the album is by no means a bad one, at times it seems that the band was not yet sure how to support the voice they had found in Bradley.

Bradley’s voice was thrust to the forefront so much that if it alone did not move you, there wasn’t much else to find.

The band’s second effort Time to Discover, released in 2000, finds the band much more sure of themselves.

Hailed by critic Mark Morgenstein as “the first modern blues classic of the new millennium,” Time to Discover arrived as a blueprint for how to adapt elements of soul, funk, folk and R&B for a modern audience.

Note: Kid Rock’s contributions are by no means the most outstanding update, but neither do they detract from the album. More important is the addition of keyboardist Tim Diaz who brings a much fuller key experience to every track.

The greatest strength of Time to Discover is its ability to slide in and out of its various influences while constantly maintaining a unique and unified character.

Elements of hip-hop can be found on tracks like “Higher” and “Take Love and Receive It,” guitarist Michael Nehra saturates “Baby” and “Ride” with funky wah sounds.

Bassist Andrew Nehra and drummer Jeff Foulkes keep a cool R&B under “You & Me” and “Mr. Tony” (the only track that finds Bradley slightly out of place, singing in what is for him an awkward Marvin Gaye style falsetto).

On possibly the album’s best track Motown comes alive again in the infectious blend of alternative rock and soul that is “Gambler.”

Many of these elements were present on the band’s debut, but this album holds together better.

Time to Discover can be described as an easy ride through many timeless elements of American music. It is soulful, thanks to Bradley, but more importantly it is deliberate, thanks to the band truly stepping up to task.

* Zachary Wolk, MXDWN