All my music geek friends have mandated that I get into Leon Bridges, the 29-year-old soul singer/songwriter from Fort Worth, Texas, who broke through with the 2015 single “Coming Home” and has frequently been described as a rhythm and blues throwback. These geeks know I dig R&B and consider Bridges’ music to be a higher form of the genre, a critically acclaimed and nostalgic remedy to the stuff on top of the charts these days. (They may have a point considering the No. 1 Billboard R&B song right now is not an R&B song at all, but a radio-ready hip-hop collaboration from DJ Khaled, Justin Bieber, Chance the Rapper and Quavo—though I’d argue there’s some fire further down that list, like H.E.R.’s “Focus” and Ella Mae’s “Trip.”)
With his second studio album Good Thing, which dropped in May, Bridges is gradually moving beyond the retro, churched-up sounds and styles that earned those early accolades and Sam Cooke comparisons. He’s not necessarily aiming for the pop charts, but he’s certainly stretching out into a broader spectrum and that musical elasticity was on display September 8 at Bridges’ tour stop at the Pearl, a room that always feels warm but was super-snug Saturday night. Seriously, there was excessive dance-cuddling.
The new record has more uptempo songs on it and Bridges and his band brought some extra oomph to the disco-kissed “You Don’t Know,” demanding we get up and dance. “Forgive You,” a mid-tempo track that sounds a little like Frank Ocean fronting The Police, couldn’t be easily classified as R&B or anything else but we definitely wanted him to play it again. Bridges used emotionally powerful new songs like “Beyond” to connect back to older material and kept the set moving, alternating between slow-burning ballads, grittier retro-soul and new directions with more space inside the notes, such as the jazzy, pulsating “Georgia to Texas.” His music has suddenly become as diverse as his audience.
End result: Good Thing is on my playlist, call it what you like. Score one for those geeks.