I was born in 1987… Leon Bridges was born in 1989.
I wasn’t around during the 1950’s and early 1960’s, when we had the likes of Sam Cooke – commonly known as the King of Soul, the smooth singing inventor of Soul music – doing his era-defining music-changing thing alongside (and contributing to the rise of) such household names as Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, James Brown, etc.
Cut to 2015 and we have Leon Bridges, a 25 year old Texan on the fast track to fame. He wasn’t around then either.
And yet – one listen to the title track of Leon’s debut album – “Coming Home” – almost instantly transports you back in time, to sit among the bronzed giants of soul, drenched in nostalgic yearnings for a time I wasn’t even a part of. It’s a strange sensation.
Bridges has a magnificent voice, gentle and choir-honed. It’s a timeless sound, consistently butter-smooth, and plays so well against the swaying doo-wop backup singers, the burning sax, languid horns and ragtime piano.
He sings about polka-dot dresses and swimming the Mississippi River for lost love. He sings of Honey-Darlings and having nothing to twist to for far too long. He sings about surrendering to the Good Lord with unclean lips and blood on his hands.
Jesus, he does this all so well that it’s hard to fault him.
Yet, I cannot help but ask the question – is Leon Bridges for real, or is he just another fabrication? Something cooked up by the music industry. Does he really have the gospel in his heart and soul in his veins? Do 25-year old’s really sing this way? Everything about him, from his 10-tracked throwback debut to the album’s icon-emulating album art itself, seems so painstakingly CREATED. The man only picked up the guitar for the first time 4 years ago. Where the hell did he learn to sing about stuff like that?
But, well, the soul-revival started a while ago, with such talented young people as the late Amy Winehouse or Alabama Shakes leading the way – and has been almost universally embraced. Leon Bridges is well aware of what he’s doing, and equally aware that he’s suddenly found himself trying to fill Sam Cooke’s immensely big shoes. He seems to be embracing it. Bridges’ most certainly has the talent to pull this off, and seems to have good intentions – but will always be seen as an imitator instead of a creator, until he sets out on his own path, as far away from Sam Cooke’s shadow as possible.
Only time will tell – the promising Texan has a long career ahead of him, and I for one will be keeping close watch, especially on the Grammy’s, as he will no doubt be popping up there at some point or another.
SCORE : 4/5
Depending on how you see it, Leon Bridges is either the reincarnation of Sam Cooke, is in possession of a secret time machine, or he’s a genuinely talented young man with a bright future in music. Regardless, you cannot deny his dedication, respect for the genre and once more – sheer talent. You cannot ignore the inexplicable goosebumps you get when hearing “Coming Home” or “Better Man” – the only explanation would be that, yes, reincarnation is real and we were all there in the 50’s doo-wopping and twisting our asses off.
In a time of f-bombs and Kanye West, this album is motherfuckin’ refreshing.
It’s that simple.
BEST TRACK : I wish a little more of the album had the urgency that “Smooth Sailin'” has. While Bridges delivers a near flawless performance through-out, few of the songs reach that “squeeze every last drop from their voices” kind of passionate singing that turned his inspirations into such legends. The emotion heats up, but never really boils. You can’t twist to any of these songs, not if you grew up listening to Jive Bunny. These songs wont do it for you. These are more “sit down and relax, staring out of the window thinking about the golden days” songs. There is one exception:
While “Coming Home” may be the obvious choice (and it IS a monstrously good track) – I’ve chosen the album’s closer – “River” as my favourite. It is a haunting gospel-blues piece, heart-wrenching, moving, beyond his years.
“Tip me in your smooth waters / I go in / As a man with many crimes / Come up for air / as my sins float down the Jordon…”
If every track on this album were this powerful, I’d have no doubts in my mind that Leon Bridges sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads for these talents.