Leon Bridges – Good Thing (Album Review)

220px-Good_Thing_by_Leon_Bridges.pngGood Thing is Texas soul singer Leon Bridges’s sophomore album, released on the 8th of March 2018.

I was introduced to Leon Bridges’s music two years ago by a friend. He is a new artist but plays an old style. Accompanied by acoustic and bass guitar, piano, saxophone and drums, Bridges channels the essence of traditional rhythm and blues; singing about love and desire, family and spirituality with a beautiful voice and old fashioned charm.

Popular music is stuck in a rut. New artists deliver mainly overproduced pop which relies too much on thrumming EDM riffs, or self-indulgent mumble rap. For me, the stripped-down, smooth and nostalgic soul of Leon Bridges was (metaphorically speaking) music to my ears.

Bridge’s 2015 debut, ‘Coming Home’ was one of those albums you can play start to finish and enjoy every song.  Highlights include the groovy flagship single ‘Coming Home’, the tale of his mother’s conversion ‘Lisa Sawyer’ and the hauntingly spiritual ‘River’.  Critics compared him to Sam Cooke and Otis Redding. Everything from the way he dressed to his lyrics: ‘What can I do? What can I do?/ I’d swim the Mississippi River/ if you would give me another chance girl’ was clearly a homage to that era. You won’t hear a single curse either.

I awaited ‘Good Thing’ with anticipation.  On first listen one thing was clear: this was a different album. Bridges experiments with modern production and a more pop-friendly sound. This is clearest in ‘You Don’t Know’, ‘If it Feels Good (Then it Must Be) and ‘Forgive You’.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

The shift reminds me of Bob Dylan’s ‘Going Electric’.  When the folk singer introduced his new sound, diehard fans cried ‘Judas’. Luckily, ‘Good Thing’ hasn’t quite met the same reaction. If Leon had a few more retro albums under his belt, it might have. Asserting a diverse pallet early is probably a wise move.

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Bridges has not lost his way. Songs like ‘The Bet Ain’t Worth the Hand’ and ‘Bad, Bad News’, go in new directions while retaining his signature sound. The autobiographical ‘Georgia to Texas’ could have been from Coming Home.

‘Beyond’ is my favourite. It really captures both being in love, and the equally powerful fear of having maybe found the one, with heartfelt lyrics and an uplifting tune: ‘I’m scared to death that she might be it/That the love is real, that the shoe might fit/she might just be my everything and beyond (beyond.)’

Song for song, I still find Coming Home a better album. However, for Bridges, who never meant  the retro theme to define him, it is a step in the right direction.  Good Thing’s best tracks – of which there are a decent few, hold the album strong.

Leon Bridges is in the big leagues now. His new producer, Ricky Reed, is a pop music giant with clients like Jason Derulo and Maroon 5. My only hope is that Bridges remembers his roots and doesn’t sell his soul to the radio as did the latter. Judging his humble demeanour, I don’t think he will.

Verdict: 3/5