“Coming Home,” the debut album by Fort Worth soul upstart Leon Bridges, is an album that does more than just take you back to the sounds of 1950s and ’60s R&B, soul and gospel. It dresses you down in greaser jackets and bobby socks and plops you down at the local malt shop on a Friday night.
The music on “Coming Home” is way older than the 25-year old crooner, who is steeped in the tradition of Sam Cooke, early Marvin Gaye and the Four Seasons. Despite missing out on the generation that brought rock ’n’ roll, R&B and the teenager demographic to the forefront of America’s culture, Bridges should not be construed as an imitation.
“I love the realness and the simplicity of it. The soul music they were making back then was from the heart,” Bridges said in an interview with British magazine NME, and listening to the album it is evident Bridges is singing straight from the heart.
Bridges’ creamy tenor is the crux of the album and his voice shines throughout the 10 tracks, starting with the doo-wop dreaminess of “Coming Home.” It is simple and enveloping like young love and Bridges’ delivery is heartfelt without coming off as too sweet. His voice is confident and warm on the direct “Smooth Sailin” and the song’s tender groove is toe-tapping and infectious. It is a succulent nugget of a song and is one of the album’s finest.
The general mood of the album falls in line with the title track and many songs on the album, like the sensual “Brown Skin Girl” and jukebox-swinging “Flowers” are a mix of puppy-love earnestness and bubbling sensual desire. But such desires can sometimes lead someone off the righteous path and as Bridges sings, “I just want to be a better man to my baby/ Meet me off good luck/ I was singing with them Jezebels/ Under perfume sheets,” on the redemptive “Better Man,” it is clear youthful love isn’t always innocent.
However, there are songs with a little more substance beyond the innocuous flirting present on most of “Coming Home.” Bridges wrote “Lisa Sawyer” for his mom and the song tells his mother’s story over a rhythm that swoons like a starry August evening. Bridges’ captures the gospel spirit on the mellow “River” with beautiful accompaniment from female backup singers and acoustic guitar. It is deep and powerful and is a wonderful bookend to the album, though it has a more introspective feel than the rest of the album.
“Coming Home” is an album that shows Bridges has done his homework on what made icons like Cooke and Gaye so undeniable, they could slay you with sharp songs with impeccable pipes. Bridges can do all of that and his debut is a wonderful starting point for him to continue to grow.
- Leon Bridges
Label: Columbia Records
Release: June 23, 2015
Notable Tracks: “Smooth Sailin,” “River”