Taking on the dreamy, compelling sound of the lost soul decades is a damn high bar to set for yourself. Soul revivalists usually don’t get very far in my book, because what’s the point of competing with the likes of Sam Cooke and Otis Redding? Listening to Leon Bridges made me do a 180 on that stance. See, if you actually can hold a candle to legends like Cooke and Redding — and Bridges can — then there’s no reason not to indulge in some nostalgia.
NPR has a first listen of Coming Home, Bridges’ debut album, and you can see and hear plenty more of him on YouTube, from a live cover of Cooke’s “Nothing Can Change This Love” to a solo performance of “Lisa Sawyer,” a reflective song about his mother.
The Cooke comparison comes up a lot, from Bridges’ raised arms in this live performance at Q on CBC that visually mimic Sam Cooke (low quality black and white video of “You Send Me” on American Bandstand), to Leon’s own credit of inspiration for the “performance aspect” of Cooke’s second live album, Live at the Harlem Square Club, 1963 (YT playlist), but Leon didn’t start listening to Sam Cooke until a few years ago. Instead, the 25 year old, whose debut single took off from “backyard” support on Gorilla vs Bear, was previously “really fascinated with Ginuwine and Usher and 112 and Dru Hill, you know? That was good R&B for the time,” and he was introduced to Sam Cooke when a friend heard him play “Lisa Sawyer” (album version) and asked if Cooke was an inspiration. Leon then did some “digital” digging, listing to classic soul music online and educated himself on the history of the sound that caught his ear.