Leon Bridges’ debut album virtuous, albeit safe, first effort

Kat Sampson

When scrolling through soul singer Leon Bridges’ Instagram, fans forget they’re holding a piece of machinery made in 2015. With every photo filtered by a thoughtful gradient of gray, often featuring Bridges in a vintage setup, there is no trace of the 21st century on the 24-year-old’s feed. The cover to his much-anticipated debut album, Coming Home, is no different.

Released Monday, the album is 10 tracks of rhythm and blues magic. The songs may not be particularly original but they’re a cause for celebration. With Coming Home, Bridges brings back the iconic Sam Cooke-esque soul music that emerged in the 1960s.

Chalk it up to good branding, maybe, but it’s apparent — most distinctly in live performances — that Bridges and his music are authentic. His music is nothing short of time travel.

The record is perfectly bookended. The three strongest tracks, “Coming Home, “Better Man” and “River,” frame the album, tricking the listener into thinking it’s stacked with hits. But this poses a problem: It’s possible to listen to the 34 minute album and only recall hearing these three songs.

 

Listeners get lost in Bridges’ vocals. There is a warmth, aided by backup singers on “River” and “Lisa Sawyer,” that transcends anything played on the radio today. The minimal production of these tracks also leave space for the listener to enjoy his crooning.

The warmth brought on by his grainy vocals is matched by the album’s wildly romantic lyrics. Whether he’s singing an ode to his mother in “Lisa Sawyer” or for redemption in “Better Man,” Bridges radiates a positivity only a debut album could muster.

“Smooth Sailing” adds energy to the otherwise sleepy middle section. The tempo, fueled by the infectious drumbeat, wakes the listener and reminds them this is partly an R&B record. It’s a shame it clocks in at just above three minutes.

“Better Man” faces the same problem. At a measly two minutes and 21 seconds, the track is a standout but could use an extra verse or two. It raises the question: Was the label in such a rush it pushed release date over song development?

Given that Bridges was washing dishes in his native Fort Worth just a year ago, his accelerated ascent to notoriety most likely contributes to the album’s short length. Columbia Records signed Bridges back in December 2014 with the help of White Denim duo Austin Jenkins and Josh Black — and, six months later, they had a record.

It’s possible the label felt pressure by Bridges’ instant fame fueled by appearances on South By Southwest stages and early Spotify success. If anything, the speedy release bought Bridges and his label some time to camp out in the studio for some necessary development.

But don’t expect a new release anytime soon. The artist and his band will be on tour through the end of the year, and it’s just where they should be. Bridges, backed by a talented band and solo-worthy backup singers, will continue to shine in the live spotlight.

Album: Coming Home

Artist: Leon Bridges

Tracks: 10

Rating: 7/10