The buzz is out on 26-year-old singer-guitarist Leon Bridges. His style, deeply rooted in vintage R&B of the ’50s and ’60s, features smoky, relaxed vocals with an undeniable Sam Cooke flavor. Enhanced by his background in choreography, Bridges mixes sight and sound to create an austere and simple approach that defies a good many current trends.
Backing him is a small, tight band with singers, sax, organ, drums, bassist Cliff Wright, and guitarists Kenny Wayne Hollingsworth and Austin Jenkins of White Denim. Wright’s bass work is simple and punchy, locking in nicely with drummer Josh Block.
Bridges is well-served by Hollingsworth and Jenkins. Their work reflects Steve Cropper’s less-is-more approach of knowing when to play, but more importantly when not to. A well-placed strum, a couple notes or a simple pattern often suffices.
“Brown Skin Girl” includes a tight guitar break. A slide solo shows up on “Twistin’ & Groovin’.” The licks on “Smooth Sailin’,” “Flowers,” and “Pull Away” are models of simplicity and economy. “River” features Bridges playing acoustic guitar, the sole accompaniment except for backup singers.
The sound may be vintage, yet Bridges and his band’s unpretentious simplicity produces results both fresh and timeless.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s November ’15 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.