By Dimitri Ehrlich
A lot of people claim to be “old souls,” but Leon Bridges is something else: a man who makes old soul music feel new again. Bridges’ voice instantly transports you to an era of 45 records, jukeboxes, cars with big tail fins, an era before Auto-Tune and drum machines. While his love for the classic era of Stax/Volt Records is eminently clear, he isn’t an acolyte who merely emulates the past. It’s not just the cut of his high-waisted 1960s Wranglers or how his honeyed falsetto-laden and gentle lyrics evoke a bygone America. It’s how he inhabits and reanimates the atoms and molecules of the singers he so clearly studied (Sam Cooke and Otis Redding are huge inspirations) that has made him one of those rare artists who can wear his musical bibliography on his sleeve without ever seeming nostalgic.
His rise to stardom was meteoric: In 2014, Bridges was washing dishes and earning pocket money by busking on the streets of Fort Worth, Texas. By the end of that year, he was signed to a major label deal, and in 2016, he performed at the Obama White House. The 33-year-old singer, who will perform at the Jazz Aspen Snowmass 2022 Labor Day Experience, can belt, he can croon, but most of all his voice can make you close your eyes and see the starry skies of summers long gone, when emotions like yearning or heartache were so vast and overwhelming you felt like you were the first person ever to feel the enormity of love. In Aspen, Bridges will share the bill with two of the greatest singers of all time—Stevie Nicks and Chris Stapleton—but Bridges can hold his own alongside the best.
The Grammy Award-winning artist released his third studio album, Gold-Diggers Sound, last summer and the reverence for all things analog attitude is evident in every note. The album is a follow-up to an acclaimed EP Bridges made with Khruangbin, Texas Sun (2020); a second collaboration, Texas Moon, came out earlier this year. “I’ve never heard an instrumental band that’s soulful,” Bridges says of Khruangbin, who had never featured any vocals prior to working with him. “And as soon as [they] showed me the tunes, immediately, my reaction was to just start singing over it. I believe that this collaboration was inevitable. I’m happy we were able to make it happen. And also, all of us being from Texas—it just made sense.”
Despite all his successes, Bridges, one of America’s best soul singer, songwriter and record producer, admits to struggling with the self-doubt that everyone else has. “For a minute, I was having these feelings of inadequacy in ways of not being a good enough singer-songwriter or deserving of being in this position,” he told The Current. “But I’m grateful to have really close friends that helped me get through that. Other than that, I’m content. I have an awesome label, an awesome team, a dope body of work. I’m ready to get back on the road and perform these songs live.”
JAS – Jazz Aspen Snowmass takes place September 2-4; jazzaspensnowmass.org