Let me start by saying that all the kudos going to Leon Bridges and Nathaniel Rateliff for last year’s outstanding albums is well deserved. However, it isn’t like old-school soul music was just rediscovered in 2015 and brought forward again. Some people out there have been carrying that torch for quite a while, and have been criminally overlooked by all but the deftest of music connoisseurs.
One of the most obvious examples of this comes from Raphael Saadiq and his outstanding 2011 release Stone Rollin’. Formerly of Tony! Toni! Tone!, Saadiq has put out a series of great solo records since the early 2000’s that highlight influences from various ‘soul’ capitals from Memphis to Detroit. What makes him a little more unique is that he pulls these sounds together with his own style. However, rather than the familiar hooks of the MG’s or the layered gospel harmonies of Motown, he wears the smooth styling’s of early 70’s Stevie Wonder crossed with the understated guitar work of Funk Brothers Robert White. Saadiq is definitely churning out classic inspired R&B and using familiar themes in the process, but you can’t help feeling you want to hear more as the record concludes.
It looks to be still in its first pressing, so the bonus CD still comes with the vinyl when you find a copy. However it is likely that you’ll need to order a copy online or from your local retailer to get a physical copy, or of course, there is always the download route. Give it a listen and I’m sure it will become your favourite new music obsession.
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.