Leon Bridges' sophomore album is a 'Good Thing' by caroline cummings

Leon Bridges didn’t set out to simply be a nostalgia act, one that frequently gets compared to ‘60s soul singer Sam Cooke and conjures up images of the American south, vinyl records and flared pants. And yet this Texas-based R&B singer’s debut album “Coming Home” made him just that, with a classic soul sound and a smooth voice delivering simple love songs. But while “Coming Home” basked in the sunlight of a humid summer afternoon with crooning ballads, Bridges’ sophomore album “Good Thing” parts from this old-school style, employing upbeat rhythms that evoke images of nights out that don’t end until the sun comes up.

That’s not to say “Good Thing” completely separates Bridges from the soul style that introduced him into the industry. His music can still easily be classified as retro, complete with vintage analog fuzz in the background. References to the south such as “Live from the funk/It’s hotter than Texas” in “If It Feels Good (Then It Must Be)” and smooth vocals piercing through the sound of horns present in most of his songs all pay homage to the great singers of the Motown era. What has changed is Bridges’ approach to his music—his focus on this genre has loosened, letting him experiment with more contemporary styles.

It is this shift that allowed Bridges to create songs such as “You Don’t Know,” a drastic departure from the style of his debut album. Filled with delayed background vocals, coatings of synthesizer and an infectious energy, “You Don’t Know” is Bridges’ ticket into the world of contemporary pop music. This energy is perhaps what distinguishes Bridges most from other artists. His joy and charisma shine through, making it impossible not to have a good time right along with him. “If It Feels Good (Then It Must Be)” embraces funk, and this guitar and synthesizer-heavy track can only be described as pure fun, with Bridges’ energy seeping through the speakers.

Even with this spirit, Bridges doesn’t always promise happy endings. The album opens with the song “Bet Ain’t Worth the Hand,” a breakup song that delivers a heartfelt and bittersweet goodbye to a former lover. With lyrics like “Kiss me before I go, but you got to let me go,” this song displays a directness that is also seen in Bridges’ autobiographical track “Georgia to Texas.” For this song, Bridges removes many of the stylistic flourishes found in his other songs, offering a raw depiction of his childhood with images of hand-me-down clothes and his mother’s financial struggles. The intimacy Bridges’ displays through straightforward lyrics such as “We had no green but the love was strong/It was all we’d need to get along,” reveals his versatility and ability to beautifully package heartfelt messages into the smooth sounds of jazz.

Bridges names diversity, in both style and content, as being one of his main goals in releasing this genre-defying album. “I didn’t want to be in that box for the rest of my life. I’m more than retro soul music,” Bridges said in an interview with Esquire. “I want [people] to see and hear that I’m bringing something different to the table, in the whole genre of R&B.”

Despite Bridges’ successful creation of a new style of R&B, “Good Thing” is not a perfect album. The love ballads often toe the line of generic, expressing old-school and simplistic desires such as “Will she have my kids? Will she be my wife?” in “Beyond.” But it is also these same love songs that provide a sensitive and sensual tone, as well as the occasional falsetto. These new additions to Bridges’ repertoire represent his growing abilities as a musician. It is clear that Bridges is attempting to create a more diverse and contemporary sound with “Good Thing,” but this experimentation feels natural, and his adventurous and contemporary album is still coated in the old-timey veneer that makes his style so recognizable.

Bridges is creating a style of the future, one that combines his own past, as well as the rich history of soul music, with contemporary genres. And as he says in the track “Bad Bad News” addressing his critics, “I know you wish I would fade away/But I got more to say.” If there’s one thing for certain, it’s that Bridges is not going to let himself fade away under the label of a retro singer. He’s here to stay, and that can’t be classified as anything but a good thing.

Photos courtesy of Capitol Records.

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