Singer/songwriter Leon Bridges burst onto the music scene in 2015 with his debut album Coming Home and immediately made a name for himself as the modern day Sam Cooke. He would probably dispute that statement, but it’s impossible not to draw the comparisons to his early 50’s and 60’s soul music counterparts.
But that was then. In 2018, Bridges is making a new sound for himself on Good Thing, his sophomore album. His sultry tenor voice and nod to those 60’s soul melodies is still there, but he pays homage to 70’s beats and his R&B upbringing in the 90’s. He’s been vocal about his influence coming heavily from Usher and Pharrell growing up, so it’s nice to see him warming up those vocal ranges on this album. He could have so easily been pegged as ‘that Sam Cooke wannabe’ singer, but instead he’s made a smooth and smart transition on this album.
But honestly, his voice is so warm and inviting he could sing anything he wants and I would listen.
Besides the obvious shift in music style and genre, Bridges changes the storyline focus on this album as well. Right out of the gate on “Bet Ain’t Worth the Hand,” we hear him struggling with the pressure of touring and leaving a possibly great relationship behind. It speaks to the authenticity and true reality of what his personal life has become since taking off on Coming Home. In the track he sings,
“Don’t get your feelings broken for nothin’
Maybe I’m leavin’
Leavin’ here with nothin’
I might regret that I can’t be your man
Sometimes the bet isn’t worth the hand
(I been hurt before, don’t wanna hurt no more)
Sometimes the bet isn’t worth the hand
I gotta let ya know girl
I can’t let it go any longer
Sometimes it ain’t worth the hand”
But upon further listening, the relationship in question may be the one hurting him. On “Forgive You” Bridges talks about forgiving someone even though his friends tell him not to. And on “Mrs.” he contemplates what it would be like to marry the person he loves if they didn’t fight so much. Both ballads take the R&B approach with plenty of wordplay and deep emotion. A perfect example of this on “Mrs.” is,
“Fussing and fighting and eye for an eye
Your shoulders get colder and colder all the time
Sometimes I wonder why I went knockin’ on ya door
Then you come knock, knock, knockin’ on mine and I remember”
Towards the end of the album, Leon keeps it light again in true pop song fashion on “You Don’t Know.” It definitely has nods to 80’s pop hits with high pitched “oohh” and “ahh baby’s” and guitar riffs in the chorus. It’s a feel good song with darker tones, but he doesn’t care. He’s just in it for a good time, not a long time.
“You don’t know, the things that you do to me
Time moves slower, when I’m in your galaxy
Stop thinkin’ it over, you might change your mind
Pull you little closer, one step at a time
Hangin’ on your words, I don’t care if they’re lies”
This song in particular is a stark difference to the 60’s drenched “Coming Home” from his first album.
Leon seems to have grown up on this record. He’s had time and space to stretch his legs on other influences and draw on his experiences fame have brought him since 2015. But because he was so specific the first time around, he had to have known it wouldn’t last forever. Instead he recognized his ability to connect to other genres and influences and use it to his advantage.
Usually it takes awhile to warm up to something so drastically different from an artist’s first album. He skipped a few decades between Coming Home and Good Thing, but the time passed with the blink of an eye. His deep voice and charisma will always draw comparisons to the past without keeping him there. That’s where his strength will prevail throughout his career, and not many artists can say that.
I look forward to seeing what he’ll do next, but for now I’m content to keep playing both albums from start to finish.
You can find Leon Bridges on tour throughout Europe this Summer before making his return to the US throughout October.