Coming Home (2015)
Coming Home/Better Man/Brown Skin Girl/Smooth Sailin'/Shine/Lisa Sawyer/Flowers/Pull Away/Twistin' & Groovin'/River
2015 was one hell of a year for revivalists - The London Souls, Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats and this, Leon Bridges' debut album. It is album absolutely steeped in the r'n'b of the early 1960s - Sam Cooke, early/mid period Marvin Gaye and Otis Redding. The music is full of early Motown doo-wop backing vocals, Stax-y horns and churchy organ. Just check out the sublime Southern soul of Better Man and the pure Marvin Gaye-influenced Coming Home. Even the cover is completely retro and Bridges' sharply dressed (in a retro style) look and typical early 60s pose.
It is so refreshing to hear a contemporary soul album with no drum machines, no huge manufactured overwhelming bass sound, no synthesised vocals, no syrupy vocals using quavering vocal tricks. This is just straight up early 60s soul with music played by a proper band and sung by a completely authentic voice. There is an effortless groove to some of the tracks - just listen to Brown Skin Girl and the sumptuous Smooth Sailin'. None of the tracks on here burn the house down but they get into a laid-back soulful but subtly upbeat rhythm. Flowers is probably the most upbeat, along with Twistin' And Groovin'. While the music is obviously revivalist, there is a modern vitality and, of course, improved quality sound to it all that makes it most appealing.
Shine literally sounds as if Change Is Gonna Come-era Sam Cooke has revisited this earth. Lisa Sawyer is a soulful tribute to his mother, backed by some beautiful, atmospheric, smoky saxophone. This is a most enjoyable, quietly uplifting album. Recommended.
Good Thing (2018)
Bet Ain't Worth The Hand/Bad Bad News/Shy/Beyond/Forgive You/Lions/If It Feels Good (Then It Must Be)/You Don't Know/Mrs./Georgia To Texas
After 2015's phenomenally good, but blatantly sixties soul revivalist debut album, Coming Home, Leon Bridges had a bit of a problem. As good as that album obviously was, should he keep chanelling his inner Sam Cooke/mid sixties Marvin Gaye or should he break out a bit and try and reach a wider audience, while still recording material in the basic style he loved? It would seem that on this album he decided on a bit of a compromise. Yes, he has broadened things out a bit, still nostalgic in is soulfulness, but it also bears influences from seventies artists such as Al Green and Prince in his late eighties/early nineties period. There are even some contemporary vibes in there too. Overall, though, I can't help but feel that this is Bridges' seventies/eighties/nineties/00s album, while Coming Home was his sixties one.
The album starts, unusually, with the slow, laid-back orchestrated, contemporary-sounding soul of Bet Ain't With The Hand. Bad Bad News is a bassy, jazzy grinder with a lot of seventies-style funky soul. This is far more of a seventies groove than the sixties material of the debut. It has some sublime jazz guitar on it too. Shy goes more down the current road with some of that "r 'n' b" thumping bass and drum backing. Personally, I preferred the authentic sounding "proper" drums of the previous outing. This sounds too much like many other current recordings for my liking. Beyond is a nice soulful song, but it also a little blighted by that huge deep drum sound.
Forgive You is a bassy, shuffling number but somewhat unremarkable. It sounds very much like typical 2018 r 'n' b chart material. Lions is another hampered by its backing. You can see that Bridges is trying to appeal to a modern audience here and the same applies to If I Feels Good (Then It Must Be), with its echoes of Prince in places. You Don't Know is also very Prince-esque, even more so, in fact. Like something from the late eighties. Nice guitar break on it though. Mrs continues the sexed-up Prince vibe in a sensuous, laid-back groove. Georgia To Texas ends the album with another tribute from Bridges to his Mother (Lisa Sawyer on the first album was the first). It is the finest piece of genuine soul on the album and the only one that really brings to mind the previous album. It features some seductive saxophone as well and some great jazzy drumming.
In summary, however, I have to say I much prefer Coming Home and feel that this album has lost its soul to contemporary pressure somewhat. I know why Bridges has gone down that route, in a way he had to. Thankfully, the first album will always be around to listen to.