Jul 22, 2021
By Mark Moody
To borrow from a story told by songwriter Jason Isbell about his first meeting with legendary interpreter Bettye LaVette, Isbell shared LaVette’s disdain at being referred to as a “soul” singer. LaVette’s retort was that the music she sang was called “rhythm and blues,” but that everything she did was soulful. Into this velvety stew we call “soulfulness,” you can safely stir in one Mr. Leon Bridges. From his threads, to his stage presence, to the way he arranges a song, and yes, to the way he sings it, Bridges exudes an interplanetary level of coolness and restrained sensuality that colors all that he does, without regard to genre boundaries.
Bridges’ debut album, 2015’s Coming Home, was a blast of retro Sam Cooke-styled set pieces, and his 2018 follow-up, Good Thing, was a more genre-hopping affair. His third album, Gold-Diggers Sound, sets its own more singularly minded style. The album fits squarely within rhythm and blues boundaries, but with a late night level of bleary insouciance that belies the effort that likely went into sounding so effortless. The album’s title refers to the hidden L.A. studio/speakeasy that Bridges and crew decamped to for these recordings. The formula of dim lights casting a warm haze over half-drunk whisky highballs hits peak level on woozy tracks like “Motorbike” and “Details.”
The tripped-out chunky rhythms of “Motorbike” give way to a series of “zero-G” flourishes that take the song to a higher plane. A perfect three-minute slice of a song, with its signature line nailing its ethos: “we don’t stop, but the time do.” The sinuous line that runs through “Details” ups the unfair advantage of a song custom made for an opening salvo on a heart stealing mix-tape. “Who gonna please you like I do, and love every detail of you,” Bridges leads before sealing the deal with a ticking off of his lady’s finer points.
The six-minute-plus “Don’t Worry” showcases Bridges’ buttery vocals intertwining with guest vocalist’s Atia “Ink” Boggs’ grittier tone. While the prayerfully toned “Sweeter” addresses racial inequality through direct images, but delivered with a velvet glove of muted synths overlaid with a sax solo meant to sooth. The expertly titled closer, “Blue Mesas,” is a string-laden ballad of finding yourself lonely at the top. Way out past the outskirts of Bridges’ West Texas home.
On first listen, Gold-Diggers Sound may pass you by like Bridges’ lane changing motorbike and could even be mistaken for being on the slighter side. But it’s the “quiet storm” power of keeping things hovering just above neutral that gives the album its after hours glow and silky appeal. Make no mistake about it that Bridges understands the impact of bringing things down a notch and letting them simmer. Gold-Diggers Sound’s finest moments are the soft as a whisper ones. The sound of slipping into something a little more comfortable. (www.leonbridges.com)
Author rating: 7.5/10
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