Leon Bridges has a time machine — I’m convinced of it. How else could the 26-year-old, Texas-born singer so resemble the iconic sounds of Sam Cooke, Otis Redding and other classic crooners? Those singers imbued a sense of sensuality and comfort into their music, and Bridges is doing the same. While modern artists rely on high-tech beat makers to produce their instrumentals, he incorporates the smooth saxophone as the backbone to his music. As Bridges explores sounds long forgotten, his artistry lies in the currents of the past, much needed in today’s musical climate. His debut album, Coming Home, has cemented his status as the man to bring back soul music.
“I’m not saying that I can hold a candle to any soul musician from the ‘50s and ‘60s, but I want to carry the torch,” Bridges said in a past interview. His idols were not always the smooth musicians of the 1960s, but Usher and Ginuwine. Yet his tastes evolved, and he began to “love the realness and simplicity of soul.” His two most popular songs, “Better Man” and “Coming Home” maintain the musical qualities of soul music, while embracing a contemporary vocabulary. It’s in this meditation of both eras — today’s music scene and the peak of soul — where Bridges has found his niche.
“Coming Home” and “Better Man” are the clear stars of the debut album, but the track “Brown Skin Girl” deserves mention. In a music industry where women are consistently disrespected and overtly sexualized, the track addresses women with a cherishing quality. Bridges croons to his darling, “Brown skin girl, let me hold you close under the white moon / ‘Cause baby, I’m ready and you know that I’m waiting on you.” “Brown Skin Girl” keeps with the romanticism of Sam Cooke’s epic “You Send Me.” His incorporation of the saxophone adds a potent touch to his songs. In “Brown Skin Girl,” the instrument belts out a sultry sound, which Bridges guides with his silky voice.
While not drastically experimenting with different themes or sounds throughout “Coming Home,” there are pockets of diversity in the tracks. “River” is a gospel song and diverges instrumentally from the rest of the album. As opposed to piano and saxophone, the guitar, and tambourine, forms the backbone of the song. “Better Man” is a groovy dance track, and “Coming Home” is a quintessential soul-song. But perhaps the most emotional song on the track is “Lisa Sawyer,” a track based upon his mother’s past experiences.
Yet it’s fair to ask whether or not Bridges is an experimental artist. While he hasn’t radically evolved any sound, his resurrection of soul music for modern ears has been like finding a well in a desert. His music is not disconcerting or unsettling, as experimental music can often be. Rather, Coming Home is a tightly knit web of soul songs. And there’s a bravery to Bridges’s work, as he isolates himself from modern musical trends. However, his most recent work, a collaboration with Macklemore on “Kevin,” suggests he is ready to leave his embargo on the modern and enter a new phase of his musical career.
Leon Bridges will be a superstar not because he’s an excellent musician but because of the musician’s that surround him. I cannot think of any other popular contemporary musician who sounds distinctly like him. To find any similarities one must trek through the musical archives, and it’s here that one might find a genre of music that has remained dormant far too long. Leon Bridges is here to revive that sound, and he’s not wasting any time.