What’s been missing from soul music for oh so long, despite the ascendancy of the neo-soul movement? Genuine soulfulness.
In a fate similar to that suffered by jazz, improvements in recording technology stripped the form of much of its immediacy, its grittiness, its sexiness, its humanity. Soul and jazz need to sound like they were recorded live, with musicians in the room making eye contact, sweating, searching for the sound as an ensemble. Modern recordings have cleaned up the audio spectrum, to be sure, and simplified the process, while simultaneously allowing each individual instrument to emerge from the sonic stew. Along the way, however, the soulfulness of soul has been lost, in many cases.
Leon Bridges, 25, arrives as a true revivalist, an artist who would have us believe that the age of soul’s deep romanticism, killer pre-hip-hop melodies, and raw urgency is not something that needs to be abandoned as a museum piece. With a voice that is all Sam Cooke-styled sweetness and rasp, and backed by a band of young southern soul maestros, Bridges convened in an ad-hoc studio full of vintage equipment assembled by the members of Texas psychedelic punk outfit White Denim, and tracked “Coming Home” in real time.
Throughout this stunningly beautiful and subtly funky collection, Cooke’s post-gospel influence is palpable, though Bridges certainly bends that influence to his own will. Elements of New Orleans blues and funk, ‘60s African-American pop, and Memphis soul abound, but all are tethered to Bridges’ unflagging sense of the debonair and the chivalrous. The singer almost suggest a conservative streak, so loathe is he to even flirt with anything explicit – his expressions of romantic love are high-brow throughout, as if he is attempting to turn back the clock when everything was not permissible, acceptable and in-your-face.
The result is one of the most soulful collections to make its way out of the American south in decades. This is old-school soul, writ large, and it has much wisdom to offer to the new school.
- Jeff Miers