“Coming Home heralds the dance mantra of 1970s liberalism. . . to a mass that is very ready for it”
Columbia Records, 22 June 2015
When narcotics were natural results of intentional insomnia, and sleep deprivation lauded a long lasting energy for Northern Soul, the soundtrack of freedom and rebellion originated in obscure American soul, and a religion thereto that refused to be shamed.
Nodding to Otis Redding and Sam Cooke, the debut record from Fort Worth, TX based Leon Bridges – Coming Home – heralds the dance mantra of 1970s liberalism, with an infectious dose of potency, backdating current R&B cultures and introducing Motown to a mass that is very ready for it. Ready with “keep the faith” sprawled proudly across its limbs that don’t stop moving until the music disappears.
The title track opens the record, delving to the very heart of Northern Soul, with a strong choral bassline backing the soulful melody, and simple love story, “I wanna be around, girl”. This line kicks an energy from key and bass, in one of the purest grooves soul music has heard in years. Straight into “doo-wup”s, the following track ‘Better Man’ is jazzier with lingering guitar licks, and one of the album’s best tracks. The low key American-ness is infectious with a curling accent, claiming he’ll “swim the Mississipi River”, recalling the coolness of Hendrix’s occasional vocals, to get another chance with his girl.
Dance tracks ‘Shine’ and ‘Flowers’ come filled with finger-clicking parameters, before the balladic and gospel narration in ‘Pull Away’ and ‘River’ is unashamed in admitting their mistakes. There is a poignancy in Bridges’s conversational lyrics, where the overt masculinity prefacing old school Motown hits like ‘Hold Back The Tears’ by The Delacardos – willing his flesh not to be weak – is clouted with every second of honest Stax Record soul and Memphis/ New Orleans rock’n’roll. Continued into ‘Brown Skin Girl’, the vintage production from alternative outfit White Denim’s Austin Jenkins and Joshua Block is a mile away from their own brand of punchy rock, but has all the grit at its core.
“BRIDGES DOESN’T HAVE THE MOST POWERFUL VOICE, BUT ONE OF THE MOST GENUINE.”
Bridges doesn’t have the most powerful voice that the genre’s ever seen – nor the smoothest – but, across songs in ode to his mother (‘Lisa Sawyer’, ‘River’), one of the most genuine. It is this which testaments his progress within the space of a year; Bridges has gone from working as a dishwasher to gaining a recording contract with Columbia Records, supporting Sharon van Etten on tour, and being gifted a soulful slot on Glastonbury’s John Peel Stage.
A gentle acoustic intro to the final track, ‘River’, underlays the biggest showcase of Bridges’ vocal range: “there’s blood on my hands and my lips are unclean”, before a communal gospel chorus chants “take me to your river” with a faith that’s hard not to respect. The album is earnest, filled with modesty and tenderness, but never professes to do more than offer its hand and invite you to listen. It refuses to impose, yet is respectfully and effortlessly memorable, reclining on its comfortable chair, draped in smoking jacket and moccasins, daiquiri in hand.
Tristan Gatward, Online Music Editor