Recording information: Niles City Sound, Fort Worth, TX.
Photographer: Rambo .
It's difficult to imagine a 1963 Columbia release from an artist whose look and sound echo 1911. In 2015, however, the thought of a young artist seemingly transported from a bygone era -- 52 years prior, to be exact -- requires no imagination whatsoever. Here's Leon Bridges. He was born in 1989. The singer, songwriter, and guitarist takes it back to the early '60s, slightly earlier than the majority of soul-rooted artists, including labelmates Raphael Saadiq, who have favored a vintage approach over a contemporary one. For those who hold younger artists to an impossible standard of authenticity, Bridges is unlikely to receive a passing grade. As a youngster, he was naturally drawn to libidinous, then-current pop-R&B acts like Usher and Ginuwine, and he didn't even have to get his hands dirty to absorb later inspiration from the likes of Sam Cooke and pre-"Grapevine" Marvin Gaye, not when all he needed was an Internet connection. Helped by White Denim's Josh Block and Austin Jenkins, Bridges touches all the retro-soul bases. Each element of his ten-song, half-hour debut evokes early- to mid-'60s R&B: the song structures, the application of reverb, the dust-coated church organ, the doo wop background vocals, the horn charts that accent rather than dominate. Bridges sings of seeking salvation and taking trains, and he offers proposals as modest as "I won't weigh you down." If he were a shouter, Bridges would likely come across as a caricature, but he works the deeply heartfelt but understated angle -- most of the songs are ballads, and only a couple work up a sweat -- without any sense of affectation. While each line is believable, "Lisa Sawyer" is all the way real, a sweet and languid biographical sketch of Bridges' mother. It's all a pleasing time warp without turbulence, one with songs built more to evoke the past than to last in one's memory. ~ Andy Kellman
Rolling Stone - 3.5 stars out of 5 -- "Tunes like the tender title track dance right back to the late Fifties, and album closer 'River' is a gospel-blues testimony that runs deep."
Spin - "For someone who picked up the guitar just four years ago and discovered his more recent inspirations shortly before that, Bridges nails the audacious '60s affectation."
NME (Magazine) - "The vibrant `Shine' is filled with languid horns and sweet doo-wop backing vocals..."
Paste (magazine) - "Bridges sounds like the 21st century reincarnation of Cooke, with his smooth, soulful croon directly out the turbulent times of the early 1960s."
Pitchfork (Website) - "Bridges can sing magnificently, and has the obvious Sunday choir-honed chops. There is an appealing gentleness to his voice, and to his record, that sets him somewhat apart."
Clash (Magazine) - "Bridges' sound is the pinnacle of a young artist transmitting a dated sound and bringing it straight into the 21st century, with the final results nostalgic yet ultimately fresh and current."