Leon Bridges has taken the music world by storm with a soul sound rooted in 50s and 60s R&B – a Sam Cooke-derived aesthetic that’s so old-fashioned it sounds new all over again on his debut album Coming Home. So we were pleased to welcome the young Fort Worth native to Austin City Limits for his debut taping.
Bridges and his band, which includes our White Denim pals Austin Jenkins and Joshua Block, gently kicked things off with “River,” a quiet, meditative hymn of desire. Bridges broke that spell immediately afterward, putting down his guitar to shimmy through the jumping “Flowers,” a throwback to an earlier era of soul music. “Brown Skin Girl” and “Let You Down” (an as-yet-unreleased song) continued the vibe, conjuring the specter of Cooke without enslaving it. One of his best-known tunes, “Better Man” moved forward to the Stax era, hitting a mid-60s groove. Bridges slowed back down for “In My Arms,” a classic R&B slow dancer that would have had all couples in the room in a clinch if we’d had a dance floor. Speaking of dancing, “Out of Line” grabbed hips for a classic twist, before “Daisy Mae” dialed back for a 50s-style, missing only doo-wops. “Smooth Sailin’” evoked the early Motown era, with its basic hooks and irresistible groove.
Bridges ventured back to ballad territory for the quietly passionate “Lisa Sawyer,” the young singer’s tribute to his mother. After asking audience members to tell their neighbors “I love you,” he sang a perfect version of his hit “Coming Home,” inviting the thrilled crowd to sing along with him. Then Bridges took us to church with the slow burning “Shine,” much to the audience’s delight. After introducing his band, Bridges went back to the dance floor, first for the lovers’ waltz “Pull Away” and then for the set-closing New Orleans R&B of “Twisting and Groovin’.”
One quick offstage break later, Bridges and the band returned for “Pussy Footin’,” another hip-swinging old school soul tune that would make a dead man dance. Bridges finished the performance with “Mississippi Kisses,” a slinky seduction song on which he engaged everybody in the crowd to dance along with him, going onto the floor to make sure it happened. That earned Bridges and band a standing ovation, and with good reason: few soul singers can evoke such old-fashioned musical values and still sound contemporary. It was a great show, and we can’t wait for you to see it when it airs next spring on your local PBS station.