Leon Bridges Brings Southern Soul Into the 21st Century

Tenacity is baked into Southern soul. It’s there in the grain and willpower of the singing, in the patiently rolling grooves, in how its down-to-earth tales unfold. It’s there in the means the music holds on to blues and gospel roots linked to deeper African ancestry. And it’s there in the means the sound persists and adapts by means of a long time, discovering new rhythms however nonetheless testifying from the coronary heart.

“Gold-Diggers Sound,” the third album by the Texas songwriter Leon Bridges, presents his customized survival technique for Southern soul. Bridges sings about its basic matters in songs that take their time and experience pure, unvarnished singing. He pledges sensual romance in “Magnolias,” does some dishonest (with duet vocals from Atia “Ink” Boggs) in “Don’t Worry About Me” and affirms his religion in “Born Again.” Around him, the music makes use of artificial textures, programmed beats and surreal layering to hold a decades-old custom into the 21st century.

“Sweeter,” which Bridges launched in June 2020 after the police homicide of George Floyd, attracts grace from mourning. The narrator is a lifeless man along with his mom, sisters and brothers weeping over him. “I thought we moved on from the darker days,” Bridges sings, over a pattering lure beat and Terrace Martin’s measured electric-piano chords; he provides, “Someone should hand you a felony/Because you stole from me my chance to be.”

“I cannot and will not be silent any longer,” Bridges mentioned in an announcement at the time. “Just as Abel’s blood was crying out to God, George Floyd is crying out to me.”

Bridges, 32, has labored his means ahead by means of soul-music historical past. His first album, “Coming Home” in 2015, launched a singer who harked again to an period nicely earlier than he was born. His voice recalled the suavity of Sam Cooke and the grit of Otis Redding, and his music was unabashedly revivalist 1960s soul. Bridges moved the timeline ahead with “Good Thing” in 2018, invoking 1980s “quiet storm” R&B and 1990s neo-soul. Both albums reached the Billboard Top 10, however they left the impression that Bridges was nonetheless doing style research, attempting on established types.

“Gold-Diggers Sound” — named after the Los Angeles studio the place the album was made — is extra confidently single-minded. All of its songs are midtempo or slower, usually verging on languid. Gently coiling, reverb-laden electric-guitar vamps, from Nate Mercereau, flip lots of the songs into meditations, and all of the tracks, regardless of how a lot is happening beneath the floor, defer to Bridges’s voice. Although the writing credit are stuffed with collaborations — together with pop tune medical doctors like Dan Wilson and Justin Tranter — the songs current Bridges as a lonely determine in a desolate area, pleading and promising.

Bridges and his producers, Ricky Reed and Mercereau, have clearly heard the gradual grooves of D’Angelo, Prince, R. Kelly, Marvin Gaye and Smokey Robinson. But there’s a special, melancholy facet to Bridges’s songs and his voice: much less assurance, extra ache.

He’s nonetheless a candy talker, providing his lovers not solely pleasure but in addition deeper empathy. In “Motorbike,” over a calmly plinking, African-tinged groove, he insists, “Don’t mean no pressure/I just wanna make you feel right.” A guitar vamps serenely in “Details” as he worries a few companion discovering another person; he reminds her how intently he’s paid consideration to “How you look in the car when I’m driving a lil fast/How you pause when you talk when you’re trying not to laugh.”

Throughout the album, Bridges dares to confess how needy he’s. “Why Don’t You Touch Me” has the form of ticking, undulating backdrop that one other singer would possibly use for an understated come-on. But Bridges’s tune sees the ardour ebbing out of his relationship, wonders what he may need completed incorrect and finally ends up begging: “Girl, make me feel wanted/Don’t leave me out here unfulfilled.” And Bridges ends the album not with romantic bliss, however with “Blue Mesas,” which confesses to a lingering despair that hasn’t been modified by success. It’s a recent selection — unexpectedly in step with the brooding sing-rap of songwriters like Polo G and Rod Wave. For Bridges, soul’s historical past continues to be unfolding.

Leon Bridges
“Gold-Diggers Sound”
(Columbia)