BOTTOM LINE The soul singer’s search for himself yields eclectic results.
In an era where text speak is taking over and folks communicate with more emojis and fewer vowels, it’s easy to see how cultural shorthand did Leon Bridges wrong.
His throwback debut “Coming Home” quickly framed the soulful singer-songwriter from Texas as the second coming of Sam Cooke — an understandable, if not entirely accurate reading that had its pluses and minuses. Great compliment, sure. Grammy nominations, great. But it took the 20-something out of the current conversation and dropped him in a time capsule from the early ‘60s that he couldn’t quite escape.
Bridges’ sophomore album, “Good Thing” (Columbia), is his way of changing the narrative.
And “Forgive You” could quickly establish him as a pop star. With help from Justin Tranter, the go-to collaborator for everyone from Selena Gomez to 5 Seconds of Summer, Bridges taps into his inner Bruno Mars — more classic “Grenade,” than ‘80s-obsessed “Finesse” — to create a simple, sweet midtempo love song.
Bridges, however, doesn’t want to trade one cultural box for another. On “Good Thing,” he doesn’t stick with one style for very long, resulting in a jumble of styles only held together by his warm, powerful voice.
He is still most effective in retro-soul, moving from a gorgeous Smokey Robinson-esque falsetto to a Marvin Gaye-like full voice with Daptone trimmings in “Bet Ain’t Worth the Hand.” And the wrenching closer “Georgia to Texas,” with its jazzy saxophone and drum fills, shows how much stronger Bridges’ lyric writing has gotten since his debut.
Where things get a little dodgy is when Bridges stretches into the club. He sounds like he’s rushing to keep up with the disco groove on “If It Feels Good, Then It Must Be” and the “Ooh baby, ahh baby” chorus of the Daft Punky “You Don’t Know” just feels forced.
Bridges hasn’t reached his full potential at 28, but “Good Thing” shows he is certainly well on his way.