By 9:30 p.m. on Friday night the line to get into C-Boys on South Congress stretched down a full city block. The show featuring Leon Bridges, the 25-year-old Fort Worth soul phenom who just signed to Colombia Records was sold out and doors wouldn’t open til 10 p.m. Inside the club 30 minutes later I staked out a spot by the front of the stage, a move that would turn out to be the best decision of the night. The main room of C-Boys is long and narrow and the stage is set low. With a packed house sight lines were obscured, but I had no idea a chattering crowd was ruining the experience for many true music enthusiasts halfway back until after the show. Where I stood the audience was rapt, hypnotized by Bridges’ silky soul.
Wearing an over-sized, checkered blazer and a polka dot necktie and playing with an eight-piece ensemble whose sound beds seem transported from the late fifties, early sixties, it is easy to lump Bridges in with the retro-soul revival movement that has been all the rage ever since the Dap Tones teamed up with Sharon Jones 15 years ago. But two things are striking about Bridges. First, his voice — he sings with a rare and beautiful golden tone, rich with emotion. Second, his authenticity. Bridges is not a flashy performer. He didn’t spend a lot of time on stage banter and his dancing was minimal. Occasionally he rose to his toes or floated his hands by his face, moving with swells of emotion. But it didn’t matter. Everything he sang was a transmission straight from the heart.
Likewise his songs are simple, but they tell beautiful stories. He played old school blues for his grandparents in New Orleans, and his description of his mother “Lisa Sawyer’s” baptism in a river was an incredibly compelling testimonial of Christian salvation. The song “In My Arms” tells the story of a wayward paramour and the underlying sentiment “If you see her, tell her there is room for her in my arms,” was delivered with heart wrenching sincerity. You could call his sound a throwback and you wouldn’t be wrong, but timeless is a better word.
Bridges is currently on his first nationwide tour and shows are rapidly selling out. By the time he returns to Austin for South by Southwest the buzz around him will likely be thunderous. That’s a lot of pressure for a young artist who currently has only two Soundcloud streams to his name, but he has truth on his side and in an industry built on glitter and gloss the depth of his substance should count for a lot.