Music Reviews
Good Thing

Leon Bridges Good Thing

(Columbia Records) Buy it from Insound Rating - 6/10

Back in 2015, Leon Bridges came out with a decidedly vintage soul record that served as a calling card for his career. It molded the Fort Worth, Texas singer-songwriter's personality into a safe, though respectable sound that crossed many generational barriers. But the marketing interrogative remained - should he follow a low-stakes, celebrated run for an older crowd, or should he appease to a younger audience?

Good Thing, the follow-up to his Grammy-nominated début, Coming Home, peddles to a broader, all-bases-covered approach. At first, Bridges knocks it out of the park with the stunning Bet Ain't Worth the Hand, a smoky, string-led ballad that evokes the heart-pounding romance of Sam Cooke. In this case, imitation is most certainly flattery. But it's not just stuck in the past, given how the tender Mrs. further refines the gospel-tinged guitar leads of Coming Home as he controls his vocal acrobatics with poise and clarity.

It's when Bridges merges a pop-oriented approach over a modern R&B groove where his creative diffidence shows. On the posh electro-jazz shuffle of Bad Bad News, his potent croon doesn't quite gel against a backdrop of machismo-fueled backup singers. And Forgive You, which invokes the shadow of Michael Jackson over a disjunctive sophisti-pop composition, ventures on an earnest experiment that doesn't quite work. Some choices are just inexcusably baffling regardless of style, as the slick soul-blues of Beyond is more cloying than a calorie sweetener. It'd be a missed opportunity if Bridges doesn't perform it on the Ellen show.

On Good Thing, Bridges attempts to rattle soul's ancestral institution with an updated finish. And there are these subtle progressive all over the album that guarantees he will keep that promise. Just listen to Shy, where he precisely times his vocal phrasing over a mellow, dim-lit arrangement. Outside of that, there's no other reason to believe that Bridges assembled a who's who of producers to enhance his commercial viability. He's coming hard for that Grammy win, after all, and the potential crossover appeal of Good Thing puts him on the right track.