Atlanta’s current king of soul, Leon Bridges, has returned with his fantastic new solo album, Gold-Diggers Sound.
Right off the bat, there’s something important to know about this album: the old school Southern soul that has been the trademark of Bridges sound for roughly a decade is gone. You can still feel it in his voice and his gravitation towards weighty themes and killer melodies, but musically, Gold-Diggers Sound represents Bridges leaping out of his comfort zone with an absurd amount of confidence.
Bursting to life with the experimental jazz of ‘Born Again’, featuring pianist and Black Radio auteur Robert Glasper, Gold-Diggers Sound presses ahead by exploring styles that feel new to Bridges. Unknown, but not alien. The easy pulse of ‘Steam’, the funeral march of ‘Gold-Diggers (Junior’s Fanfare)’ that switches immediately into the downtempo electronic funk of ‘Details’, the acoustic folk of ‘Magnolia’. It all feels natural, as though Bridges had wanted to explore these spaces for years but kept his loyalty to the more traditional sounds of soul.
The features are the secret weapon that Gold-Diggers Sound deploys with tasteful restraint. Anita Boggs, more commonly recognised as INK, gets an official feature on the spacey ‘Don’t Worry’ and provides a light touch to a number of the album’s tracks. The same goes for saxophonist Terrace Martin, who gets a feature credit on ‘Sweeter’ but can be heard all over the LP.
Other than Bridges, the primary driving force behind the album is producer Nate Mercereau, a multi-instrumentalist who shares several writing credits with Bridges and performs on a large number of the album’s backing tracks. Bridges is the man in charge, but skyscrapers are not constructed by a single person, and the album’s indelible sound has its fair share of architects.
With all that being said, the spotlight never strays from Bridges for too long. In the past, he would stretch out his versatile voice to find the highest and lowest notes possible, prying emotion from vocal gymnastics with the intonation of a southern preacher and the relaxed cool of a classic R&B star. Bridges doesn’t appear as interested in melismas or showing off on Gold-Diggers Sound, and, instead, he’s willing to appear wounded, confused, and forward-thinking. When the album suddenly cuts out after the Moog-sounding final notes of ‘Blue Mesas’, Bridges has completely yanked to the carpet from under your feet, subverting any expectations you might have had come into a traditional Leon Bridges album.
That’s all to say that Gold-Diggers Sound is an experimental, forward-thinking album that finds Bridges in full-on departure mode. Whatever soul loyalties he might have held in the past are dispensed in favour of electronic buzz, pulsating drum machines, and dry funk. If Bridges didn’t pull it off with some great songs an absurd amount of confidence, there might have been room to complain about the change in style. However, there is no room to complain because Gold-Diggers Sound is too much fun, too well-constructed, too contemplative, and too ingenious to take issue with whether Bridges has changed. He has, and for the better.