What Leon Bridges is doing on his first full-length album, Coming Home, isn’t as crucial as when he’s doing it.
From the opening moment of his Columbia Records debut, due out Tuesday, the 25-year-old Bridges sounds like a man from another era — a visitor from the late ’50s and early ’60s, when rock ’n’ roll was as embryonic as R&B and soul, and jazz was still a dominant force in the mainstream.
Recorded last summer in Fort Worth’s Near Southside neighborhood, inside Shipping & Receiving, these 10 tracks bear no trace of their relatively rag-tag origins — producers Austin Jenkins and Joshua Block (of Austin rockers White Denim) set up a bare-bones studio, brought in a handful of local heavy hitters to perform behind Bridges, recording to tape, and that was all that was needed.
Whatever happens to Bridges’ career after Home reaches a wider audience, I fervently hope he never strays too far from the real, the raw and the analog way of making music. (Put another way: The minute you hear a Bridges song remixed by some EDM act, you’ll know it’s curtains.)
Much like R&B/soul revivalists before him — nearly all of whom were, interestingly enough, Brits: Adele, Amy Winehouse, James Morrison, Duffy; the list could stretch for days — Bridges is deeply enamored with another era’s style and sensibility, favoring restraint in an age where overkill is never enough.
“I’m not saying I can hold a candle to any soul musician from the ’50s and ’60s,” Bridges says in his official Columbia Records biography, “but I want to carry the torch.”
It’s jarring to listen to these smooth, simple, direct songs and realize the classic soul torch-toting Bridges is entering a marketplace where loud, flashy and shallow reigns supreme — the music is almost as anachronistic as his dress.
Yet, Bridges’ unforced approach works.
He sells this unhurried batch of soul-soaked originals purely on the charisma of his singular voice, an almost angelic tenor which can either plead with a lover (the title track; Better Man) or demonstrate piety (the gorgeous gospel closer and album standout River) with unerring skill.
Home’s largely leisurely pace — only Smooth Sailin’, Flowers and penultimate cut Twistin’ and Groovin’ (which evokes a lost Sun Records B-side) up the tempo somewhat — is a bit of a double-edged sword, as it can make the songs feel homogenous.
However, there’s enough soul to smooth over the record’s predominantly contemplative nature. Bridges and his collaborators conjure an evocative mood and, for better or worse, they rarely deviate from it.
Bridges has been met with an almost impossible amount of hype, both at home and around the world, in the months leading up to Coming Home’s release — he’s been tagged as the second coming of Sam Cooke, among other classic R&B touchstones, more than once — and the album, at the very least, confirms the breathless praise is indeed merited.
But as confident as Bridges’ first record is, what’s most exciting is the realization the best is likely yet to come.
Preston Jones, 817-390-7713