ALBUM REVIEW: LEON BRIDGES - GOLD-DIGGERS SOUND
Please Take My Money, I'm In Need
Each time Leon Bridges releases something new to the world, he proves his mettle as a musician all over again. With the confident entrance of 2015's debut Coming Home evoking the spirit of Southern soul, and its follow up three years later with Good Thing (2018) sporting a more genre-curious approach, Bridges has always been an artist with an enviable versatility. Continuing to demonstrate himself as a musical shapeshifter with last year's EP Texas Sun, a melting pot of styles made in collaboration with virtuosic trio Khruangbin, where Bridges' music has previously received comparisons to Frank Ocean, Sam Cooke and Otis Redding- if there's one thing that's clear here, it is that this man has range.
Then on one blessed day in 2019, Bridges headed to Los Angeles and checked into Gold-Diggers Sound: a bar, hotel, recording studio, and (most importantly) the birthplace and title of his latest album. Working with legendary saxophonist Terrace Martin alongside Ricky Reed (producer of Good Thing) the result is the work of art I’m sat here gushing about today.
The Georgia-born musician worked tirelessly for two years on Gold-Diggers Sound, saying he “almost never left”. When explaining his process he said “we were taking shots of tequila and winding down at 10am and getting up and drinking coffee at 10pm”. If that lifestyle is what gave birth to the 11 creations on this record, then all I can say is "I’ll have what he’s having." Bridges welcomes us into his musical wonderland with ‘Born Again’. Backed by synths and an ongoing flirtation with sax phrases as well as stunning piano work by the all-time great Robert Glasper, the milky-voiced musician shows he knows just get a groove going and rein the listener in from the very beginning. As the album unfurls with a pleasant laziness, its expansive instrumental palette shines through, however the guitar work still takes center stage (no complaints here).
Palm-muted guitars, quiet drumming and textural riffs are generously employed throughout ‘Motorbike’, the second track on the album, using the vehicle as a (ed: very convincing) seduction tactic. The track right after it, ‘Steam’, feels like 'Motorbike's funkier cousin. With a rich instrumental palette that creates the feeling of a seductive 80s electro-funk dance floor anthem, this song builds itself into a sort of “u up?” text, but all enveloped in the distinguished, sophisticated and thoughtfully considered style of Mr. Bridges.
The reverb-bathed ‘Why Don’t You Touch Me’ highlights a lack of communication between two lovers struggling to keep their love alive, and sees Bridges take on a strong vulnerable persona as he pleads “if you’re still in love like you say, then why don’t you touch me?” and then retreats to introspection, thinking about whether he’s been “too possessive… too aggressive”, all accompanied by a simple finger-picked guitar pattern that completes the ballad. Elsewhere, on ‘Don’t Worry’, Bridges dwells similarly on the mishaps of a previous relationship, boasting his songwriting prowess: “Like a broken clock, stopped giving you time”
One of the best tracks of the album is ‘Sweeter’ which came out in June last year. The song is a harrowing, bruised tribute and response to the murder of George Floyd and the incalculable scale of institutional state violence directed towards black people in America and beyond. Bridges places his listener into the shoes of the victim, and he did so painfully well with the help of an electronic bassline, anguished saxophone notes and ticking beats. In the song he questions “I thought we’d moved on from the darker days, did the words of the King disappear in the world like a butterfly?” stirring the listener with his heart-wrenching melody.
Instrumentally, the album felt to me like it could have been recorded in one take- like one wonderfully uninterrupted jam session. It felt like it was just the right length, at 37 minutes- an easy breezy listen. Sprinkled throughout with soulful sonics, deep grooves and jazzy bits combined with Bridges lyrical genius, demonstrated best on ‘Details’, the album is just one breathtaking track after another. Even the occasional features of trap hi-hats, as heard on ‘Sho Nuff’ and ‘Magnolias’ meld perfectly well into the cohesive instrumental jam sesh that Gold-Diggers Sound is.
The only qualm I had about this album was that Bridges seemed to be holding back a little. At points the album's effortlessness proved so relaxingly constructed that Bridges may not have been pushing himself quite as far as he could have. The record, at times, seemed almost reluctant to truly give itself over to the emotions that these tracks gesture toward. Every time it feels like he’s close to breaking out on this album- whether it be on ‘Motorbike’ after the first chorus, or the hook in ‘Why Don’t You Touch Me?’, instead of a grand, cathartic release, instead it feels as though restraint wins over; allowing instrumentation and production to take over.
But overall Gold-Diggers Sound stands as a carefully crafted project from start to finish, and sees Bridges holding onto some of the retro R&B characteristics he’s known for while still experimenting with fresh sounds, seen perhaps most clearly with its final track on the album ‘Blue Mesas’ with its futuristic space-age synths. Could this be a teaser of the next chapter in Bridges’ musical evolution? We’ll have to wait and see, but at least we have the excellent tunes of Gold-Diggers Sound to feed our melophilia while we do.
- 7.8 -
highlights: Sweeter, Magnolias, Why Don’t You Touch Me
Tara Choudhary is a third-year student at King’s College London, who euphemises her indecisiveness by saying she studies the Liberal Arts. She enjoys music, theatre and basically anything she can categorise as “not math”.
Thanks for reading! Slow Motion Panic Masters is a music, arts and culture website created and edited by Ben Wheadon, an English literature graduate and guitarist from South Wales. He edited this article and is a Fleet Foxes shill.
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