Album Review: Leon Bridges | Coming Home
The rhythm-and-blues soul of the 50s and 60s is one of the most widely respected and adored realms of popular music. The artists associated with the era, most notably Sam Cooke and Otis Redding, gained nationwide fame as some of the earliest black American mainstream musicians. The sound of the era is characterized by its specific brand live instrumentation; saxophone bursts layered over smooth bass, downtempo electric guitar, and gospel-style vocals. Many of the artists of the time are seen as figures of mystery, Cooke, Redding, and Marvin Gaye all died unnaturally. Because of this reverence, there has been some tentativeness approaching the genre in modern times. However, Austin, TX based singer-songwriter Leon Bridges‘s debut full-length album Coming Home tastefully and appropriately pays homage to the sounds of early soul music.
Within the first few moments of the record, the soothing title track “Coming Home” recalls early Gaye with its 6/8 tempo, light snare snaps, and backing “oohs”. The groove coming from the bass is really what makes the track. The lyrics are so earnest and innocent “I’m coming home to your tender, sweet, lovin’/ you’re my one and only woman” that you can’t help but believe the modesty that Bridges has tried to exude since his first single. The world is hard, and your significant other should be your escape from that world. Immediately following, we get the fantastic “Better Man”, which contains the best use of saxophone on the entire album. The instrumentals and production on this track are among the best of the record, while the cut-and-paste earnesty of Bridges’ lyrics tend to get a little too smitten with his influences; “I’d swim the Mississippi River” is a classic line, but it seems like it’s trying too hard to seem timeless.
“Brown Skin Girl”, the third track on the record, is a funky piece of doo-wop that sees Bridges gain a little self-awareness in his lyricism, while the instrumental is solid but doesn’t stand out. Unfortunately, once you’ve heard those first three tracks, you’ve essentially gained the sound of the entire album. Luckily for Bridges, his clever, wide-eyed songwriting and wonderful, bright backing production stays phenomenal for the duration of the record. “Pull Away” is simply beautiful; one of the highlights of the album. It’s one of the few tracks on this LP that actually features piano; I hope Bridges utilizes the beauty of keyboards more in future releases. The feminine backing vocals are featured prominently on this track as well, and they work better here than anywhere else on the album. However, songs like “Smooth Sailin'” and “Twistin’ & Groovin'” seem tailor-made for a soul record; it feels like I’ve heard these songs before, and that’s not necessarily a good thing.
Spirituality and religion are defining aspects of soul music, but only one track on Coming Home gives Christianity a focus: the closer, “River”. Unsurprisingly, it’s the most powerful song on the record. It’s the album’s most gospel-influenced song; the lyric “Surrender to the good Lord/ and he’ll wipe your slate clean” is Bridges’s most poignant. It’s definitely one of my favorite tracks of the year. Bridges is a powerful enough presence for somebody so innocent and young that one can’t help but be excited for how he’ll grow as an artist. Stay tuned.
Parker’s Song of the Summer
Every music fan has to have a Song of the Summer. While everybody has different taste, my personal Song of the Summer criteria has two aspects: 1) the song must be danceable and pop-influenced, and 2) it must get Top 40 pop music radio airplay. My past Songs of the Summer have been Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe”, Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines”, and Clean Bandit’s “Rather Be”. 2015 has been an interesting year for Song of the Summer candidates; there have been many viable songs, but none that stand out immediately like in previous years. Here’s my list of candidates, and whether they make the cut.
A surefire candidate if it came out three months later. As it stands now, it’s gotten far to much air play to warrant consideration for this summer.
I’ve seen a number of people crown this as the Song of the Summer, which is too bad, because this song sucks ass.
Certainly danceable, certainly popular, but the song just isn’t good. It’s probably the worst song on 1989, which makes it even more puzzling that Kendrick showed up.
Get ready for this song to become ubiquitous. It’s already hit #1 in multiple European charts, and has the right mix of one-hit-wonder uniqueness and pop sensibility. I really dig this song, even if the lyrics are dumb, but it’s not quite danceable enough to make the cut.
Get this thing on the radio, people! It probably won’t make it there, as people don’t want kids to hear “Imma ride in that pussy like a stroller“, but it’s bright and danceable. Still, probably won’t make the cut.
Is it just me, or is Jason Derulo getting really good? This song is the most danceable of the bunch, and has only recently been added to Top 40 rotation. A strong candidate, for sure.
After reviewing the candidates, I’m ready to call 2015 a weak year for Summer Songs. As of now, I’m sticking with “Want To Want me” as my choice, but I’m not particularly happy about it. Stay tuned.
Five songs I’m listening to this week
Leon Bridges | “River”
Jason Derulo | “Want To Want Me”
Kacey Musgraves | “Biscuits”
Kiiara | “Gold”
The Weeknd | “Can’t Feel My Face”