It’s been six years since we first had R&B singer/songwriter Leon Bridges on the Austin City Limits stage in his debut appearance. Since that time, the Fort Worth native has earned a Grammy, alongside multiple nominations, released three acclaimed albums and become one of music’s most sought-after collaborators. Gold-Diggers Sound, his latest, is one of his most anticipated records to date, featuring a mix of twenty-first century R&B producers and jazz musicians that expands his sound far beyond the traditionalist soul of his first album. We were thrilled to have him back on the ACL stage in a magnetic 17-song career-spanning performance.
The leather-clad Bridges and his seven-piece band took the stage to some pre-recorded soul, before the singer led his musicians into “Shy,” a slinky ballad from his second LP Good Thing. “Has anyone been listening?” he asked in reference to Gold-Diggers Sound, garnering applause before launching into the sexy grooves of “Steam.” Then it was back to balladry for “Why Don’t You Touch Me,” a romantic plea done Bridges style. Next up, bassist Joshua Crumbley brought the funk for “You Don’t Know,” as Bridges was joined in the front line by backup singers Brittni Jesse and Brandon “Marcel” Mills. “It’s an honor to bring Gold-Diggers Sound to Austin, Texas tonight,” Bridges noted, reinforcing that statement with the smoldering “Born Again,” powered by axeman Brandon Thomson’s whammy-bar swells. The dreamy slow jam “Details” followed, but was nearly upstaged by the next track, the shimmering single “Motorbike.”
“Make some noise if you missed live music,” Bridges said. “I know I did.” As the audience cheered, he and the band began the smooth come-on “Magnolias” – “Tell me what you want – let me spoil ya,” he crooned, but the crowd probably already felt spoiled. A pair of roadies then brought out a stand-up bass for Crumbly, which he played arco style to kick off the beautiful, introspective “Blue Mesas.” Crumbly went back to his electric bass, as Bridges told him, “I think Austin, Texas wants to hear something funky.” And that’s what we got, with an extended introduction leading into the groove-addicted “Lions,” from Good Thing. “That was an icebreaker,” he noted playfully. Bridges then asked if he and the group could “get a little country,” which led into “Beyond,” a Good Thing highlight that earned a big ovation.
After that song of devotion, Bridges led the band into “Sweeter,” his soulful response to the death of George Floyd, and a clear crowd fave. After making fun of the outfit he wore during his Season 41 debut, with a good-natured “I hope I did better this time,” he rode the mellow but insistent groove of the earnest “Don’t Worry” on home, with the help of guitarist Kenneth Hollingsworth’s terse solo and keyboardist Joshua Johnson’s sinuous sax. “That’s the feeling I need more of,” Bridges asserted on the next song, the undulating “Sho Nuff.” Crumbly and drummer Brandon Combs then kicked the groove back into high gear for the jazzy, jamming “Bad Bad News,” which really worked up a head of funky steam.
As the set neared its end, it was time for Bridges to pull out the songs that put him on the map. “I guess it’s time for me to play some music off my first album,” he commented – the signal for his gold-selling single “Coming Home,” as smart and stylish an evocation of smooth old-school soul as has been recorded in the past decade. The singer then donned a guitar as the band stripped down to just Johnson and Jesse. That could only mean one thing: the final song would be the luminous, gospel-tinged “River,” a fan favorite that Bridges will likely play (happily) at every show for the rest of his career. It was a perfect way to end a world-class set, and we can’t wait for you to see it when it broadcasts November 6 on your local PBS station.