Leon Bridges has a stunningly soulful voice, clearly nurtured on an enviable mix of Sam Cooke soul and Marvin Gaye R&B, with slices of gospel and jazz thrown in for good measure.
When the 25-year-old from Fort Worth, Texas, takes control of "Twistin' and Groovin'," he sounds like an early '60s soul singer, especially when surrounded by the clipped guitar work, the lush horn solos and a vintage walking bass line. He sings of trains and merry-go-rounds so convincingly that you wonder where this music has been for the past 50 years.
It's part of what makes Bridges' debut, "Coming Home" (Columbia), so enthralling -- the latest and perhaps most convincing release in the growing ranks of throwback soul launched by the success of Amy Winehouse. And Bridges' voice is the real deal, confirmed by his standout performance at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductions, where he charmed with versions of "Dedicated to the One I Love" and "When a Man Loves a Woman."
However, on "Coming Home," he is so enamored with that era that, at times, he gets lost in it. "I became so fascinated with that sound I wanted to re-create it exactly," he recently told The Guardian. "It made me happy to make it identical. The simplicity just sounded so good."
It does sound good, especially when he's emulating Cooke the most, in the sweet, doo-wop-tinged "Better Man" and the gospel-steeped anthem "River." The issue, though, is that Bridges doesn't add enough of himself to some of these songs to raise them above cover band material. He needs to provide more reasons for fans of this music to search out his new songs rather than sticking with the classics of Cooke and Gaye.
"Coming Home" is a promising start for Bridges, who will only get better, especially when he can forge deeper bonds to the songs that he sings.
THE GRADE B+