Written by Chris Osifchin
How can something so old sound so new?
You’d be forgiven for thinking rising soul singer Leon Bridges’ debut album, Coming Home, is something out of the early ’60s. Evoking the sound and spirit of a different place and a different time, Bridges rushes out of the gate with pop music so essential, so timeless, that it appears the collective consciousness has returned to a crucial component in the development of the sound that was to become rock and roll.
Short and sweet and smooth, Coming Home hits a note deeply ingrained in pop music’s history. Bridges channels the souls of his predecessors, most obviously Sam Cooke, who Bridges has admitted in interviews is an influence. But what’s overwhelmingly clear about this debut is that Bridges is that good – and his sound original enough – that he could bring this soulful style back into the fold. If the emergence of the sound in the mainstream can be attributed to Bruno Mars, Leon Bridges will be the one to ride the train.
From the opening moments of the title track, there’s a sense that the journey you’re about to embark on will take you through familiar territory. It’s been so long since music like this dominated the airwaves, but the doo-wop vibe is enchanting with its “oohs” and “aahs,” reminiscent of The Drifters. Bridges taps into an almost universally revered style of music with massive confidence as he approaches youthful emotions with an elemental sense of soul and a classic sense of a well-structured song.
Bridges gets groovy on “Brown Skin Girl,” bringing to life a traditional story of longing for a love he hasn’t met yet. Despite the familiar sounds of the one-four-five chord structure, Bridges has developed a keen sense of lyrical phrasing, singing lines like “Pretty little honey with a polka dot dress on/Ruby lipped lady whose name I don’t know” before belting out a long stream of “oohs.” It channels the infatuation one gets when he sees a pretty little lady across the room in such an effective and seductive way that if you closed your eyes you might see the Brown Skin Girl.
Another song about a woman, this time Bridges’ mother, “Lisa Sawyer” is a riveting number, a dramatically moving tribute to the woman who raised him. Bridges, like his musical ancestors, has a penchant for describing simple pleasures in beautiful ways throughout Coming Home. Here he sings “She grew up on Louisa Street/Chaos around but inside cozy/Small but a mansion in her eyes/Eyes, eyes, mansion.” Despite the turmoil outside, Lisa Sawyer was a woman who appreciated what she had. Though there’s chaos surrounding Bridges now, he’s built a sense of home around himself with a killer debut developed from sounds that may be old, but ones that he’s managed to own.
Bridges’ style was cool once before. We know that. But is it always a natural evolution for the creative consciousness to expose itself in cycles? We see it in fashion all the time. As fads from previous decades return to prominence labeled as “vintage” or “retro” they become cool again (or maybe for the first time). Is it possible that this sound is even better now? Nobody is making this type of music today, or at least nothing is getting as much buzz as Coming Home. Leon Bridges, a relative unknown in the fall of 2014, is poised to become the next big thing. A throwback to an era of girl groups and doo-wop, rather than rock and hip-hop, Leon Bridges is the best type of anomaly.