For the seasoned soul music follower, it would be easy to be cynical about Leon Bridges upon first impressions. This 27 year-old guitarist and singer has barely been on the scene a year and already he’s been snapped up by major label Columbia. Surely this just another excuse to market cookie-cutter soul music to those infatuated with Pharrell and Olly Murs? Actually, no, as it happens. While it borrows copiously, Bridges’ debut is a rewarding listen from a musician who is only just discovering his talent.
What’s surprising about Bridges – who has been making music for roughly four years – is that his vintage soul sound has developed as a result of self-expression and found sounds. Bridges wrote the song Lisa Sawyer, arguably the rootsiest number on the record, as a tribute to his mother. It’s a story of hardship and perseverance, which quickly brings to mind the music of Otis Redding, Bobby Womack and Sam Cooke. A friend of his told him as much and, after listening to the latter alongside The Temptations, Bridges said: “I realised that was where I needed to be all along”.
And when he’s cooked up music this earthy, it’s tough to find fault. Bridges is an old soul capable of turning on six-degrees of Eddie Kendricks one minute (Coming Home), and switching to a guitar-playing midnight mover the next (Shine). The title track gives you a good idea of what to expect from the rest of the album, which was recorded with vintage instruments, and almost goes out of its way so it can be called “authentic”.
Jazzy, up-tempo show tune, Flowers, was made for jiving at a county fair equivalent. With his smooth baritone on Shine and Pull Away, Bridges is giving a whole new generation of bruthas some pointers about how to serenade a lady (just make sure you can set the mood with a gentle, swaying guitar or piano groove, and have a backing singer or two chime in with an “oh” every so often). And on the percussive, utterly sublime Smooth Sailin’, with its funky guitar giving you a sense of fluid motion, Bridges displays the catchy songwriting of Motown and the showmanship of a great like Redding.
From his chance meeting with White Denim guitarist Austin Jenkins to signing with Columbia and recording Coming Home, Bridges has certainly had fortune on his side. He’s a talented guitarist and lyricist, and while this isn’t as refined a record as the recent works of Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, Myron & E and, to a lesser extent, Aloe Blacc circa Good Things, it’s agreeable and even encouraging. Though it panders to the past, it’s been executed with an adoration and sure-footedness that wins you round the more you listen. Rest easy, contemporary soul lovers: Bridges is way more soul man than upstart pretender. And if it takes a recent disciple of Sam Cooke to remind the mainstream what actual soul music is, then we’re 100% on board.
Coming Home by Leon Bridges can be ordered here.