Leon Bridges might’ve built a time machine. His Columbia Records debut album, Coming Home, was released earlier this week and is filled with the kind of juke box soul joints that likely set your parents moving. Much like his soul revivalist contemporaries like Hiatus Kaiyote or The Alabama Shakes the fingerprints of legendary artists like Sam Cooke, James Brown and Otis Redding are all over this album. Anyone who professes an interest in R&B music will find familiar genre hallmarks here: tambourines rattling in the wake of the driving snares and reverbed upper-range guitar accents are the go to for Bridges as they were for those before him.


In some respects, it does feel as if the 25-year-old Bridges has done his homework, methodically pouring over the work of generations before him to find the perfect mix of sincerity and saccharine. Bridges brings nothing terribly game changing from a lyrical standpoint (though “Lisa Sawyer” is a touching tribute to his mother) but his backing band manages to keep the music itself entertaining enough to warrant full listening. The backing on the album comes courtesy of Austin Jenkins and Josh Block, members of Austin, Tex.-based rock band White Denim; the guitarist and drummer recruited local heavyweights in the Fort Worth music scene to give Bridges tried and true studio musicians


The consummate skill of the band is especially evident on songs like the titular “Coming Home,” a time-bending trip down nostalgia lane replete with a warm plodding bassline and crooning church choirs; Bridges sings “I wanna be around you girl” with the passion of an older man. His voice is never the selling point for his music, preferring to depend on straightforward lyrics, relatable emotion and a fundamental understanding of what music moves people.


The main place where Bridges fall short of his strong debut is in his actual soul. Despite making one of the best soul-revivalist albums in recent memory, listeners get very few glimpses through the polished veneer of the singer; “Better Man” offers up empty platitudes like “I don’t want money/ I just want to be a better man to my baby” when it tries to resuscitate the singer-in-need-of-love-and-begging sub genre that dominated airwaves in the past and even the church ballad “Shine” is largely unmoving with Bridges singing this time to God to “Lord, don’t remember my sins/ My sins from my youth” while retaining his cool guy soul man facade flawlessly.

For a debut album, Bridges succeeds in spectacular fashion; drawing comparisons to Sam Cooke and Otis Redding is no small feat for anyone let alone a brand new artist from Ft. Worth, Tex.  Coming Home is out now on Columbia Records and you can stream it below.

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