LEON BRIDGES: Coming Home

leon-bridges-coming-home1LEON BRIDGES COMING HOME  Columbia Records

www.leonbridges.com

For fans of: Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, The Temptations

Sounding like it was written and recorded in 1960, Leon Bridges’ debut album COMING HOME might be one of 2015’s best releases. Sometimes referred to as “Sam Cooke reincarnated”, Leon Bridges didn’t actually start listening to Sam Cooke’s music until fairly recently. A fan of modern soul artists like Usher and Ginuwine it wasn’t until someone compared one of his songs to the music of Cooke that Leon decided he needed to go back and listen to the classics. Inspired by the legendary soul artists he was discovering, Leon moved away from the electronic beats he was using to create songs and took a more organic approach to songwriting.  After working up some new material Leon hit the Fort Worth music scene hard. Performing for anyone that would listen, his first real break in 2014 when he was approached by White Denim guitarist Austin Jenkins. Jenkins was so impressed with Leon’s performance that he insisted the two of them make a record together.  A few weeks later the the duo of Jenkins and Bridges were hard at work in the studio writing songs for what would become Leon’s debut album. Now with a record to promote Leon will hit the road this summer playing shows on both sides of the Atlantic. Not bad for a kid from Fort Worth, Texas who just over a year ago was washing dishes and playing to a crowd of five people in a Texas dive bar.

leon_bridges

COMING HOME ALBUM REVIEW

Clocking in at just under 35 minutes COMING HOME is a breath of fresh air for today’s soul music scene. The songs are simple, but well-crafted and the musicianship is solid but not ridged.  If fact, part of the reason this album flows so well is because Leon and the band don’t try to do too much. A perfect example of this is the blues-boogie track “Flowers”. Here the band let’s the groove do the talking as they swing hard over Leon’s smooth vocals. In fact, Leon doesn’t really scream or shout throughout the entire album. A self-proclaimed “smooth cat”, he keeps things smooth and soulful, always serving the music and not over powering song. Another stand out track is the Motown-esq “Smooth Salin”. An upbeat dance number, “Smooth Sailin” is stuck somewhere between early Marvin Gaye and Wilson Pickett. Again, Leon’s vocals perfectly serve the song as they coast smoothly over the tune’s driving back-beat. Definitely the album’s most danceable number, this song is surely going to be a hit when performed live. Still, even though the music on COMING HOME is mostly upbeat, the album’s finest moments are the slower gospel-soul tracks. The soul-gospel ballad, “River” is by far the the best song on the album.  A beautiful song about life reflection and being honest with yourself, this song is a perfect way to close out the album. Reminiscent of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Gonna Come”, Leon Bridges’ “River” is his defining moment.

All this being said, if there’s one complaint I have about COMING HOME it’s that sometimes Leon sounds a little too much like his influences. Songs like “Brown-Skin Girl” and “Twistin’ and Groovin” sound almost like they could be Sam Cooke b-sides. While some might think that’s not a bad problem to have, I personally feel that Leon’s too talented to become a Sam Cooke cover act.  Also, some of the videos that he’s filmed for the album almost look like they could be part of a Sam Cooke or Otis Redding documentary. While I’m sure that his label has a lot to do with this, I think that Leon will really begin to shine when he finds his own sound. Think about it this way, artists like Ray Charles, Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, and Sam Cooke all started out trying to copy their influences. It was when they found their own voice that they became legendary artists and had successful careers. I’m suspect that in time Leon will find his too.  It’s obvious that this young man is incredibly talented and has the drive to really make a run at stardom. He’s written an excellent album and released it at a time when soul music really needs someone like him. Here’s hoping he stays the course and we hear about him for years to come.

 

Leon Bridges

THE RELATIVES: The Electric Word

THE RELATIVES The Electric Word (Yep Roc Records)

Psychedelic Gospel? YES PLEASE!

Founded in Dallas, Texas in 1970 by two brothers, Rev. Gean and Rev. Tommie West, The Relatives have been playing their special brand of Funky-Gospel for over 40 years. The band enjoyed some local success the 1970’s, releasing three singles and sharing the stage with some of the biggest names in Gospel and Soul as well as headlined their own shows.  Then in 1980 after a decade of playing gigs of all shapes and sizes the band members called it quits to focus on other parts of their lives.  Then in 2009 the good people at Heavy Light Records re-released the band’s singles on the compilation Don’t Let Me Fall.  The album received very positive feedback and inspired the band to start performing live again.  Word soon got out about the band’s amazing live show and the group was booked into many of the top festivals in the country.  Now after a successful return to the stage that’s brought the band many new fans they’ve decided it’s time to head back to the recording studio and give the people a new studio record called, The Electric Word.

After listening to The Electric Word (Yep Roc) you probably wouldn’t be able to tell that this is The Relatives’ first release of new music in almost 40 years.  Produced and recorded by fellow Texan Jim Eno of the band Spoon, the band sounds just as powerful and soulful as ever.  As you’d expect, the bands vocals and t harmonies are spot on but what really sticks out about this recording is the power of the band!  On the tune Let Your Light Shine the bass and guitar are LOUD and up in the mix giving the tune a real psychedelic rock vibe.  Think Sly Stone meets Band of Gypsies.  This song is just begging to be performed live.  Along with psychedelic rock the band also serves up a healthy dose of FUNK.  Things Are Changing and It’s Coming Up Again both have a great James Brown/O.V. Wright vibe and Speak To Me (What’s Wrong With America?) is a beautiful civil-rights balled that shows off the bands true vocal power.  The band may not be re-inventing the wheel with it’s songwriting but that really doesn’t matter. This album’s purpose is to get you out to see the band on-stage where they really shine. Which is exactly what you should do if these guys pass through your town.

 

FUNKY SOUL: THREE ESSENTIAL COLLECTIONS!

Funk and Soul music has always been a large part of my music collection.  My first exposure to Funk and Soul came through my High School band director Dr. Van Decker.  While most other school bands in the area did the marching band thing we played music by Herbie Hancock, James Brown, and Monk.   Inspired by the music we learned about in class, I would often head to Lou’s Record Shop after school and pick up albums so I could hear the original version of the song we were learning in class.  At first listen most of the grooves on these original recordings sounded simple but when you listened a little closer you could hear all the little nuances of the song that made it really move.  So, for those who want to get into what I call “Street Funk” here are three of my favorite compilations.

Play ’em loud and enjoy!

SATURDAY NIGHT FISH FRY: NEW ORLEANS FUNK AND SOUL 

Label: SOUL JAZZ RECORDS

This record from the good folks at SOUL JAZZ RECORDS is a great mix of funk, soul, and gospel from a group of artists that can only be described as New Orleans royalty.  Besides tracks from popular artists like Dr. John, Lee Dorsey, and Irma Thomas this album contains some great b-sides from lesser know musicians like Eddie Bo,  Eldridge Holmes, and Betty Harris. These artists created some of the most soulful funk to ever come out of New Orleans but unfortunately only achieved limited success nationally.  The stand out track for me on this record is “Pass The Hatchet” by Roger & The Gypsies.  This tune, produced by famed New Orleans musician Eddie Bo, became the first hit for the indie Seven-B label and is a perfect example of how a simple drum beat and a little melody can go a long way.  If I have one complaint about this release it’s that it is currently out of print and doesn’t seem to be on iTunes as of this posting (although some of the tracks are available on other releases).  I came across my copy a few years ago digging through the $1.99 used bin at a local record store.  Let this be a lesson to ALWAYS check the bargain bin when shopping for records.

 

 

THE FUNKY 16 CORNERS

Label: STONES THROW RECORDS

Released in 2001 by Stones Throw Records, The Funky 16 Corners  features a hefty helping of unreleased funky music recorded during the 60’s and 70’s.   All the tracks on this record are solid and the stories behind the music are just as moving as the music.  If you purchase this release on-line I highly suggest you check out www.stonesthrow.com to read the interviews with the artists that were collected during the formation of this disc.  For example, one of the groups featured on this disc is The Kashmere Stage band.  This was the school band for Kashmere High School in Houston Texas.  In the late 1960’s music director Conrad Johnson took the school’s struggling music program to a new level.  After introducing new arrangements and letting the kids inject some of their own style in the group The Kashmere Stage band started winning numerous awards and competitions.  They traveled all over the country breaking down barriers in many of the places they played (Kashmere H.S. was predominantly black and most of the school band competitions they entered were made up of all white groups). For more information on the story behind the Kashmere Stage Band check out the documentary film THUNDER SOUL.

 

 

Searching For Soul: Rare and Classic Soul, Funk, and Jazz from Michigan  

Label: Luv N’ Haight/Ubiquity

The album Searching For Soul: Rare Classic Soul, Funk, and Jazz from Michigan shows us that there is so much more to the Mid-West Soul scene then Motown.   Soul/Funk/Hip-Hop drummers, this record should be in your collection right next to your James Brown records.  All the grooves on this disc are slick and full of feel.  Robert Lowe’s tune “Back To Funk” is a classic. Filled to the brim with percussion and a tight saxophone solo this tune is Soul Jazz at it’s best.  As for straight-up Soul music, look no further then Dee Williams’ smooth and soulful voice on “(I Can) Deal With That”.  But the real story on this disc is hard FUNK!  Tracks by the Detroit Sex Machines and The Black Aces Of Soul & The Eyes Of Ebony are full of danceable breaks and greasy grooves, making this record essential to any fan of Funk music.

Although I am a big fan of the used bin,  things like this have a habit of going out of print without warning.  As of this posting you can still get this record most places. So don’t wait!  Pick up a copy today.  You’ll be glad you did.