When I try to think of beautiful albums, ones that evoke a sense of forgiving warmth, ones that allow you to close your eyes and imagine a different era, to romanticise the past and sit yourself on a sepia-tone porch back in the 60s, I think of Leon Bridges’ 2015 debut album Coming Home. This work accompanies my afternoon coffee breaks, the occasional drive through New England’s autumn, the dinner parties I’ve hosted in my uni flat. It’s beautiful, yes, smooth and reminiscent, but, above all, reliable.
Bridges’ popularity has increased since his 2015 beginnings. Born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia and Fort Worth, Texas, the artist has four studio albums and two EPs. He’s been nominated for five Grammys, including best R&B album three times, and won one for Best Traditional R&B Performance. He started out, as well, opening for legs of Harry Styles’ first solo tour.
The neo-soul R&B album pays tribute to pioneering soul singers and to classical jazz, and, as commonly noted when analysing Bridges’ style, music legend Sam Cooke. Bridges does not deny his love for Cooke; in fact, the opposite, Bridges has consistently cited the King of Soul as inspiration for his current sound. But, despite this relationship, Bridges approached his projects following Coming Home with a step away from this reputation as the 21st century Sam Cooke. I love Sam Cooke’s work, and I love how it makes me feel: teary-eyed, awestruck, speechless. But I love Leon Bridges’ work for slightly different reasons. This album’s tracks, ones like “Outta Line”, which brings an upbeat “Great Balls of Fire”-type keys section, “Daisy Mae,” and “River” are an ode to the past and an experimental take on the jazzy soul sound people never seem to outgrow. Maybe a basic choice, as it’s the album’s most popular track, but “River” is my favorite. Bridges’ personal connection to this song, seemingly about salvation and the artist’s own spiritual experiences, uplift his vocals. They clarify the “emotion” of redemption. The album’s choral backtracks, love songs, and sweet ode to his mother Lisa Sawyer’s upbringing in New Orleans have always brought me back to this album. The retro cover design, with a collage-style image of dancing Bridges on top a muted red tone, sticks in my mind. When I crave a clean and nostalgic sound, with embellished and heartwarming vocals, I consistently welcome Coming Home.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons