Many exciting things were happening in the ‘50s: “I Love Lucy” was in its prime, the space race had just begun, and gas was less than 30 cents. Among all the excitement, the U.S. saw a development in two hip-shaking and terrifying-to-old-people musical genres: rock and roll and soul music, the latter of which seems to be experiencing a resurgence in popularity.
Artists such as The Suffers, The Alabama Shakes, and Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings are part of a retro-soul revival that recaptures some of the soul, funk, and R&B music of the ‘50s and ‘60s. Adding to this contemporary resurgence is Texas singer-songwriter Leon Bridges. Bridges released his debut album “Coming Home” last summer which was nominated for Best R&B album at the 58th Annual Grammy Awards. A deluxe edition of “Coming Home” featuring five new tracks was released in early February.
Upon listening to the album, we’re presented with some of the tropes which made soul music so recognizable: reverb-soaked guitars, organs, doo-wops, and lyrics about love and loss. Furthermore, Bridges’ voice sits like sweet caramel atop a soul sundae. It’s smooth, delicate, and wholly representative of the innocence we’ve come to associate with the era of music Bridges is attempting to recreate. Tracks such as “Coming Home,” “Shine,” and “Here in My Arms” – one of the newly released tracks – feel like gospel-inspired tunes. Here, Bridges’ voice is truly on display and if you close your eyes, you can almost feel Sam Cooke’s charisma peeking out from behind Bridges’ velvet voice.
While “Coming Home” is a window into timeless music, it’s a window that’s almost too narrow and at times it feels as though Bridges is part of a cover band playing a soul-night gig at The Museum Club. The music feels like tip toeing on a cloud of cotton candy, it’s charming and whimsical, but where “Coming Home” loses its magic is its lack of originality. Part of the appeal to The Alabama Shakes, Sharon Jones, or even Amy Winehouse is not simply their homages to the genres that inspired them. It’s their ability to take what’s uniquely theirs and blend it with those genres. There’s certainly a uniqueness to Bridges but for now it seems masked by doo-wops and bubbly guitar work.
The deluxe edition of “Coming Home” seemed promising because the five new songs might have been the insight into Bridges that the album could have benefited from. However, the additional songs fail to show anything new and so what we’re left with here is a solid debut from Bridges and a question: who exactly is Leon Bridges? A nostalgic man, no doubt, and for the 25-year-old musician, perhaps even he doesn’t know the answer. But for Bridges his journey has just begun and provided that he doesn’t get stuck in the past, he might soon figure that out.