It’s been a crappy week in this ‘Year That Sucks.’ With darkened mood, I look to my turntable for a lifeline, something…anything to shine a bit of light into a world that no longer makes any sense. Nothing seems to work until a conversation I have with a friend leads me down a path to the record store.
You see, as per usual, I arrive late to the party. Somehow the floatation device I had been searching desperately for had been put on the shelves months ago and I failed to see it. In a black cover with a melting grey heart, I place my hopes on the vinyl circles within.
The needle strikes the groove and I’m gone. The O’Jays meet Pink Floyd in a drawn out sonic line in the sand. Slow and melodic “Cold Little Heart” creeps under the skin and my head sways to the rhythm. A lead guitar soars out over with the voice of angels in the background. It smacks me in the head as if I’m listening to Ennio Morricone in a Philadelphia setting. It’s new old soul. Visual images dance in front of my closed eyes. It’s neon shimmering lightly in the rain, sad and powerful simultaneously.
“Standing now Calling all the people here to see the show Calling for my demons now to let me go I need something, give me something wonderful”
Projecting. I’m projecting. Kiwanuka’s “Love & Hate” has said something that makes sense to me. Tears begin to flow. This art understands me… or do I it?
Why overanalyze this?
I’m moved. I need this. It’s the soundtrack to this moment; music for broken people in broken times.
“One More Night” with its mix of horns and bass plays out with quiet desperation. Like a tired person who can’t stop walking. And, quite honestly, this is how the whole record is. It’s heartbreakingly beautiful.
Love & Hate isn’t your over-produced modern R&B. It’s organic, it rings with emotion, and it never feels like you are being sold some auto-tune cliché meant to promote sales over a genuine musical experience. It’s the one record this year that I am not only happy I purchased, but grateful to have found in the first place.
(Now if only I could get some tickets to his sold out show here in Toronto I might even crack a smile.)
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.