Clarksdale, Mississippi native Charles Wright might be from one of blues music’s spiritual homes, but his travels have taken him far afield of a single musical form. His command of American music extends past blues into the deepest reaches of our national musical experience. Blues, gospel, soul, rhythm and blues, Wright blurs lines between a variety of musical boundaries and brings them together in often rousing fashion. There are many nods to the past scattered throughout the album’s thirteen songs, but Charles Wright presents them with a vivid modern edge that dissipates any lingering retro feel. There’s an appealing immediacy in how the instruments and vocals are presented that pushes these songs to a new level of physicality that engages listeners from first song to last.
“Answer to My Prayers” opens Something to Make You Feel Good on an extraordinarily solid note. It’s a light, relatively breezy blues prioritizing structure and melody over any guitar histrionics and Wright leaps out of the mix with tremendous engagement. He takes an audacious turn on “Apartment Living”, a hard-edged slab of funk with dense, layered instrumentation. “Looking for an Ugly Woman” has a stylish groove that takes over immediately and Wright rides it masterfully. The song has some obvious comedic qualities, but Wright’s songwriting artistry lies in the song’s subtle undertones only discerning listeners will pick up on. “She Don’t Believe In Love” hinges on the same songwriting model; it presents itself as one thing, but there’s an underside to the track that gives it added depth. “Happiness” blasts out with resounding energy that quickly captures listeners’ attention and the brass section boils over with vivid, forceful energy.
“Thank God for Tonight” and “Made in the Shade” are two excellent examples of Wright’s continuing skill for essaying patient soul balladry. He takes a very even-handed approach to these songs, emphasizing emotive potential over vocal pyrotechnics, and this slant results in remarkably effective efforts in a traditional vein. His phrasing is signature enough to pour new wine into old bottles. “Throwing in the Towel” is the second half’s musical highlight. It’s a rollicking, stripped back rocker with a decidedly bluesy edge. The vocals match the verve of the musical attack and it creates a distinctly upbeat air despite the song’s title. “Comfort Me” is one of Wright’s two tributes to his gospel roots. His unabashed belief in the redemptive power of Christian spirituality comes through in every verse, quaking and cracking with the convictions of his beliefs. “Storybook” ends Something to Make You Feel Good on a jovial, bouncing note with a poppy bit of funk eliciting one of Wright’s strongest performances yet.
Charles Wright is much more than a musician. He’s an author, activist, promoter, filmmaker, and overall cultural force. His song “Express Yourself” might be his greatest commercial achievement, but the vast body of his work extends far beyond mere product and a release like Something To Make You Feel Good reinforces the continuing value of his cultural currency.