A few years ago, I met a guy at a party. As you do if you ever catch me two gin and tonics in, we got to deep chatting about music and he said to me, ‘Have you ever heard Sam Cooke?’
Somewhat ashamed I said ‘No’.
Later that night, he put on a record and played Sam Cooke’s “Nothing Can Change This Love” and the atoms and arteries and everything in between that creates everything that makes sound connect to your heart, converged.
When you hear something for the first time, its initial existence in its own place in time magically transcends and re-invents itself as part of your own space and time. It becomes part of your history, no matter when its own history begun.
Leon Bridge’s mountain-smashing debut LP Coming Home is a sound that re-invents traditional 1950s American soul music. Borrowing from that genre what has resonated with this 25 year-old musician is re-appropriated into the context of a digitised age where the possibilities of creating music are endless and accessible while uniquity is sparse.
It was in hearing the lead track “Coming Home” from this LP that I was reminded of the first time that I heard Sam Cooke because of Bridge’s throwback, vintage soul vocal tone and the simplicity in his song structure. Like the Cooke track mentioned above, “Coming Home” croons of the strangeness in being presented the world, but only wanting to be in one place with one person. With doo-wop crescendos and fade out ad-libs, this track sets up the transcendence of time that Bridge’s has so perfectly mastered.
Through the use of traditional 12-bar blue arrangements and 4 chord basic progressions, Coming Home showcases the winning formula that less is more. Utilised in tracks like “Better Man”, “Brown Skin Girl”, “ Smooth Sailin’” and “Twistin’ and Groovin’”, we see classic doo-wop backing vocals matched with subtle drum fills and horn section climbs as a landscape is built around Bridge’s declarations of love, adoration and hope for innocent and happiness.
Structured like tunes made for nights out dancing in old jazz clubs, “Twistin’ and Groovin’” in particular sees the saxophone solo play out in response to Bridge’s vocals verses as though it were a sassy woman retaliating to his flattering attraction to her.
It is in hearing horn sections like this that we are reminded of the special place that they have in good popular music; standing in the background but cementing the foreground. Not as a novelty like these bullshit EDM songs have the masses into believing (see Timmy Trumpet and “Jubel” by Klingande).
Dressed in 1950s American prep attire and carefully curating photos and performances like being present in that youth defining era, Leon Bridge’s is the definition of throwback southern soul for the people that never lived in the era but have the opportunity to revel in its positive aspects.
As a record that has been not only perfectly executed in musical capability and lyrical content, Coming Home also draws an air of authenticity to Bridge’s sound through its use of vintage recording equipment as engineered by Austin Jenkins (the guitarist from the legendary, ‘throwback’ 1970s street rock ‘n roller group White Denim). Despite his intentional curating, nothing seems pushed by Bridges but rather flows naturally like it was produced from the musical era of its foundations.
“Pull Away” is a track that highlights this through its “Unchained Melody”-like arpeggio progressions, layered with old soul crooning whilst “Flowers” sees the more rock ‘n roll side of Elvis channelled.
The interesting thing about Coming Home and Leon Bridge’s beginning trajectory as an artist that is an culmination of a particular music genre in history, is that he is a millennial that grew up on digitised music, that is making throwback soul music to be listened to on digitised formats.
We only need to look at our own C.W. Stoneking’s analogue-intended centered Gon’ Boogaloo to understand that when making music that is not of this era, one must make it to exist in the playing format of that era. Therefore, it shouldn’t be produced to be listened to out of computer speakers…so luckily this LP is available on vinyl.
Bridges is throwback but is ‘throwback’ a word that we use because we can’t make anything wholly new anymore?
Or is it a word that we use to say ‘This reminds me of this’?
But what if it is reminding you of a time that you didn’t live in?
And what if it is made for people that didn’t live in the time that it is ‘throwing back’ to?
We are all instances of the past that lives within us, and Bridge’s represents this new way of creating music and art.
And as we reach the end of the record with the song “River”, Bridges brings to us the soft, gospel ballad of the anticipation of a man whose path has only just begun. Where will he take us? To the new old world, where we combine everything good about the past with everything good that we have now. And what a world we want to be in.
Hometown: Atlanta, Georgia
Latest Release: Coming Home (Columbia Records, June 2015)
Say What? After releasing “Coming Home” and “Lisa Sawyer” on his SoundCloud, Bridges received offers from 40 different record labels to sign him before eventually going with Columbia (home to the history changing Miles Davis Kind Of Blue)
Paws and pineapples, Cat