Gold-Diggers Sound is a record of newfound honesty, a major step forward for the heretofore bed-hedging Bridges.
After exploding on the scene six years ago, Leon Bridges is back with his third full length record, Gold-Diggers Sound, named for the studio where the album was recorded. This features Bridges at his most confident point in the history of his career, shifting genres again to a modern R&B sound with all of his well-known nostalgic flairs intact.
Bridges was relatively young when he first became famous, barely cracking 25 as his songs soared on the streaming charts. Younger audiences found his style and approach to music relatable, as he gave the impression in his songs that he was insecure and (understandably) a little nervous about the strides he had made already. His 2015 record Coming Home projects those emotions onto a sonic backdrop that appeals to his older listeners; smooth, rich vocals cascade over songs that take the general shape of classic Sam Cooke hits. It seemed like he had found his groove and was going to stick with it, but his second album Good Thing took his familiar restrained approach and applied them to the soul and pop sounds of the ’80s. Now, on Gold-Diggers Sound, he reinvents his style again, here adding a modern R&B twist, and this time he comes out swinging — at long last, his full emotional palette is on full display. He sings about closeness with sexual partners, injustice dispensed by a racist system, and a desire to come out of his shell a little bit more, which is also to say, establish a more clear identity. To that end, Gold-Diggers Sound is a good start.
The songs on his latest record are slower, cut through with more intentional melodies, each note an emotional choice as much as a sonic one. As his vocal cascades across the record, listeners are given a richer portrait of Leon Bridges, the man behind the artist, than at any other point in his career, and without this deeply-felt sincerity, the album wouldn’t work. The hip-hop beats would feel disingenuous, the soul would feel misplaced, and the vulnerable crooning would feel like pure performance. In many ways, this is indeed the Leon Bridges we’ve always known: he still has a love for classic Motown and rock & roll styles, still imbues his vocal with a timeless quality, and still sings about his deepest loves. The difference on Gold-Diggers Sound is the newfound honesty with which he offers it all up, and the payoff is considerable.
During his first large venue tour, Bridges opened each encore by saying that when he worked in a restaurant, he would close his eyes as he was sweeping and imagine that he was on a stage performing to thousands of adoring fans. These were the thoughts that sustained him in those days, and he went on to explain that he was afraid every time he closed his eyes on stage, he would open them again and find himself right back in the Texas diner he used to work at, his stunning new reality a daydreamed lie. Gold-Diggers Sound, then, is about the feeling of opening his eyes and finding every adoring fan still there.
Published as part of Album Roundup — July 2021 | Part 3.