Leon Bridges (photo by Rambo, PR)
Leon Bridges is a young talent with a soul that contradicts his age. Growing up in Fort Worth, Texas, Bridges, 25, listened to mainstream R&B artists like Usher and Dru Hill, but it wasn’t until he heard classic vocalists like Sam Cooke and Otis Redding that he found his own voice as a singer and songwriter.
Bridges’ debut album, Coming Home, is a bold throwback to ‘60s soul, mostly circa 1963. The album isn’t a blatant copy of a bygone era, but rather a loving salute. Nothing feels calculated about his debut. Instead, Bridges is a natural torchbearer, preserving a style of music from the past while revitalizing it with contemporary ideas and influences. Guitarist Austin Jenkins and drummer Josh Block of the psychedelic blues band White Denim championed Bridges early in his career and both men lend their production acumen to Coming Home, recording the album in their own Niles City Sound studio and focusing on vintage instruments and sound.
The title track, an ode to young love, opens the album and it’s a musical time machine, taking listeners back fifty years. “Better Man” sounds like it’s straight from ‘60s-era Detroit, complemented with a Funk Brothers groove, wordless girl-group backing vocals and brass embellishments. On the silky smooth “Shine,” Bridges’ strong ability as a vocalist moves to center stage. His delivery is supple, gliding effortlessly around the melody.
Bridges’ skill as a storyteller comes to the forefront in “Lisa Sawyer,” an homage to his mother. The song tells the story of her youth: born in New Orleans and finding the church in her mid-teens. With “Flowers,” the pace quickens and rocks and sways with a groove that powered plenty of teen sock hops back in the day; the riff is vaguely reminiscent of John Fred and his Playboys’ 1967 single “Judy In Disguise (With Glasses).” Southern rock, sax and a gritty slide guitar fuel the bluesy “Twistin’ And Groovin’” while Bridges’ love of gospel elevates “River,” a fitting finale to an album that is a heartfelt labor of love.
Leon Bridges isn’t the first contemporary artist to resurrect vintage soul, R&B, and early rock and roll. But he treats that era’s music in a loving and respectful way, allowing it to thrive anew, rather than simply copying it. A warm and vivid celebration of Bridges’ tour de force vocals, Coming Home looks to the past but revels in Bridges’ promising future.
Preview songs and/or buy 'em (all purchases benefit WFUV):