Let’s be clear, Leon Bridges is not the second coming of Sam Cooke, Otis Redding or Wilson Pickett; he is his own singer/songwriter that has chosen to play music in a style that is familiar to fans of 60’s R&B coming out of Memphis. He’s good… really damn good, but to stand beside the Soul gods, you need more than one record of gospel inspired glory.
Of course, that doesn’t mean Bridges isn’t shooting for the stars. His music isn’t just inspired by Memphis but actually seems to embody the sound. His peer group may include contemporaries like Nick Waterhouse and Raphael Saadiq, but Bridges’ ups the game of capturing old-school R&B by pulling in music that could’ve been created by the Blues Brothers Band. He’s got the brass sounding like the legendary Memphis Horns, a deep groove reminiscent of Duck Dunn and the minimalist guitar leads that you might swear were coming off Steve Cropper. Then you mix in a style that slides in a suave 60’s Bacharach martini dance party and you get a glimpse of the power possessed in Coming Home. In essence, Bridges is the ‘new old soul.’
The title track acts as both a mission statement and anchor to the unfolding of the album. “Coming Home” rolls out as a having an influence in doo wop, gospel and a soul flavoured pop delivered in a voice rich with southern longing. “Better Man” pulls the laundry list of things one is willing to do to access forgiveness. The themes are classic across the board. Lust (“Brown Skinned Girl” & “Smooth Sailin”), faith (“Shine”), family (“Lisa Sawyer”) love (“Flowers”) and love lost (“Pull Away”) all mingle together in a familiar Stax like setting. There is even a little nod to soul legend Sam Cooke on the song “River” which starts with a Ben E King “Stand By Me” opening before drifting off into the classic storytelling that makes one search for spiritual meaning.
Coming Home is indeed a record steeped in the traditions of past musical glories; in following that path Leon Bridges may have begun a journey towards becoming a legend himself. Time will tell.
Coming Home will be released on June 23 on all the usual formats. For vinyl fans there is a lithograph bundle that can also be picked up.