It was the early 1950s and a historical revolution was taking place in the United States at the time. People had been awakened by the words of great men such as Martin Luther King, giving birth to the civil rights era and an incredibly powerful political movement. Such movement was strongly bound to a musical expression which originated in the African-American community and expressed the stressful status they had been victims of for the past decades: Soul music. Through a colourful succession of catchy rhythms, heartfelt handclaps and tireless body movements, music came to know the power and attraction of one of the most popular and warming genres of that lively period. All over the country a new, glowing and shiny lighthouse was shedding brightness to give music it’s true meaning, the essence of raising awareness and bringing people together. Names of the likes of Otis Redding, Sam Cooke and James Brown, also known as the “Godfather of Soul”, were spreading a signiﬁcant message about political consciousness through their melodies and eternal live performances. James Brown’s live show at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem is regarded as one of the most inspiring and inﬂuential performances in the history of Soul music and remains, to this day, a performance many contemporary artists look to as a reference and landmark of the musical show business. People from all over the country would gather for his concerts in a somehow holy reunion marked by his exceptional vibratos and everlasting humming. Other previously cited artists were living up to these expectations and their music dominated the U.S. rhythm and blues chart in the late 50s and 60s giving this one of a kind genre the essential role it truly deserved. Another iconic artist and pioneer of this gospel-based miracle is, without exceptions to any of his songs, Ray Charles. His innovative style in recordings contributed to the emergence of soul music and spread the words of enslaved classes from the past which would sing the same tear-shedding melodies and engage in african rhythmic sequences.
Soul music is considered one of the richest sources of talented singers and musicians and has blessed us with some of the most inspiring artists of the last century. All over the States, new record labels were basing their roots and developing recording techniques that are still used to this day thanks to their effectiveness and astounding production results. Needless to say Detroit was one of the focal areas where this genre developed into a pop-oriented act thanks to historical label “Motown Records”, which promoted artists such as The Temptations, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and Aretha Franklin. The success achieved with the works of these recording artists gave labels, Motown amongst others, the possibility to ﬁnally produce tasteful music from the past renovating it with the resources it longed to possess. Recordings were being made with entire orchestras or various of their sections in order to enrich and colour a type of music that had been so raw and down to earth up until then.
Towards the end of the 60s the genre began to splinter: the character of the music since then played gained a funky twist that turned the genre into the main inﬂuence of rock music which had a major importance in the years to come with bands like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. Soul’s never-ending evolution has brought it up to our days with the manifestation of new branches such as Funk-Soul fusion, which was carefully crafted by James Brown since 1968, and neo-soul, an innovative and more up-tempoed version of soul. The former, studded with modern beats and powerful bass sequences that still maintain that rich, melodic vibe. First introduced in 1994 by artists like d’Angelo, Erykah Badu and multi-Grammy Award-winning Lauryn Hill.
Although Soul seems to be a genre that is less performed in these days there are some artists who have been bringing it back to it’s original spark. Many are the names that deserve attention and recognition but one in particular has recently stood out with great acclaim: Leon Bridges.
On July 13 1989, in Atlanta, Georgia, a soulful child was born from an African-American family with not much to praise but their richness in love. Originally from New Orleans, Leon’s family moved to Fort Worth, Texas, where the young boy developed his interest in music and the performing arts. Since his boyhood, Bridges grew interest in playing the guitar and singing, but never really thought he would give a shot at having a career as a retributed artist. This was until less than two years ago when he was working as a dishwasher in a local restaurant. Before rediscovering his strong relation with the smooth sounds from the past he was caught in the 90s r&b genre, considering artists like Usher to be his main focus and inspiration. He also took part in dance courses in his hometown college where he developed his amazing capability to move ﬂuently and without hesitation on the stage.
After listening to a famous song called “A Change is Gonna Come”, from one of his idols and undisputed references Sam Cooke, Bridges began to write his own songs driven by same the passion of his ancestors. With his soft, sweet southern drawl he was able to recreate the same atmosphere in his recordings that can be lived once more by listening to one of those old Motown vinils that are still remembered as an expression of the hardly felt living of the 50s. Not only is he witnessing that restrained, tasteful soul from the misty age through his music: as we can see from his black and white pictures on his website , he wears the style of more than half a century ago with an indescribable and natural pride, almost as if he had been catapulted into our era to bring back once more a taste of that raw essence we still look up to.
In order to fully understand his upbringing and growth as an artist let’s back up to when the 27 year-old, after writing numerous of his songs, started performing in his town’s coffee houses on a regular basis. After some neat and highly rated gigs, Bridges drew the attention of psych-rock band “White Denim” founders, Austin Jenkins and Josh Block. Both of them went back to his gig, a week later the marvelling performance, and paid for session players and a studio space. Ever since, they started a collaboration in order to record and promote the young Soulman.
After publishing his ﬁrst two songs “Coming Home” and “Lisa Sawyer” he received great acclaim on Spotify and in 2014 received interest from more than 40 record labels, offering him to produce his album. After giving it a lot of thought, Bridges decided to go with Columbia Records as he says “for the vibes”. Having spent nearly a year on national tour and recording with his label, on June 23rd 2015 he released his debut album “Coming Home”, consisting of 10 original tracks which describe his origins and roots, from his family to his heart-struggling love relationships.
Ever since the publishing of his album, Leon Bridges has been on a world tour which has brought him major acclaim, featuring in an Apple Music tv ad and in the major venues of the most important cities, from the Apollo Theatre in Manhattan to the Empire in London. His project has been followed and supported not only by an ever-growing fan base who’s interest is to explore a frontier that has been somehow long forgotten, but by a series of numerous artists which have shown an interest in future collaborations.
The main question regarding this outstanding phenomenon is “Do we need a throwback into the Soul heritage in order to rediscover it’s original meaning and profoundness?”. I’ll leave you to answer this query by listening to his works and judging yourselves if the world can stop “leaving a bitter taste” with these delicate notes he so naturally blessed us with.