Published Jun 23, 2015The question with Leon Bridges is authenticity, and the Fort Worth, Texas singer-songwriter/musician exonerates himself nicely with major label debut record Coming Home. Nowhere near as organic as a Raphael Saadiq — but not as one-dimensional as a Ricky Fanté — Bridges brings ten tracks to the table that feel fresh despite being decidedly retro.
While being perfectly primed and tailored for Starbucks playlists, Bridges delivers his soul revivalist vibe earnestly and honestly; cynics might note that the White Denim-backed artist with the Sam Cooke visual/aural aesthetic and vintage live analogue studio sound strains belief — Would a 25-year old unironically immerse himself into this music? — but the proof is in the album. Bridges can sing, he can play and he delivers an intriguing project.
Title track "Coming Home," with its crackling production and soft vocals, naturally evoke Sam Cooke's charm and comfortable sensibility: "The world leaves a bitter taste in my mouth, girl / You're the only one I want to be around…" Elsewhere, the playful "Smooth Sailin'" encourages two-steps and head nods and "Better Man" rides his oft-returned-to themes of simplicity in love ("I'd swim the Mississippi river to get back to your heart girl…"), while the ode to his mother, "Lisa Sawyer," is warm and heartfelt.
"Brown Skin Girl" and "Pull Away" are relatively weaker spots, in the sense that they feel overly conventional and aren't as impactful as the rest of the material, but all is forgiven by the stripped-down soul gospel of "River," the album closer that stands as the best exhibition of the genuine emotion Bridges leverages with his music. Bridges' rich timbre and phrasings are minimal in approach — "Take me to your rivers / I wanna go / I wanna know" — but amplified by their directness.
All art contains at least a modicum of artifice, and while the stylistic concessions work here, one hopes that Bridges' next effort will find him amping up the experimental, modernistic aspects of his soul. That said, Coming Home is a star-making vehicle that is solidly crafted, robustly traditionalist and palpably soulful. This is not just a nostalgia act; this is music from the heart, and the soul. (Sony)