The soul of today 

Imogen Thom 

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The future of music is unmistakably tinged with the past. Sam Smith’s ubiquity in the current scene demonstrate this. Smith is soul music, with an edge of contemporary relevance. His success demonstrates that the revival of this genre is crucial for the winning of awards. 

Leon Bridges is one star to watch out for in the rise of this movement. A native of Fort Worthington, Bridges’ throwback take on soul music led to him stimulating the interest of over 40 labels. Within 6 months he was propelled from washing dishes in a small Texas restaurant to signing with Columbia records in the US, and Communion records in the UK. Currently he is working to get his debut LP released in the summer of 2015. His sound is genuine and sincere, owing to the stripped-back musical accompaniment of guitar and drums; undoubtedly influenced by his reverence for Sam Cooke and Otis Reading, he does it all with irresistible charisma. 

Aged only 25, Leon manages to convey an emotional maturity in his songs - exclamations of love and desire that seem to open a door back to the 1960s. There is a simplicity to his voice, which with his effortless delivery of his distinctive vocals, creates a harmonious marriage of gospel and soul. His distinctive fashion style - he performs in vintage clothing - helped propel him to success; a chance encounter with an admirer of his 50s high-waisted trousers led to his initial discovery. For Bridges, his “music sounds like he looks”. He has truly resurrected Sam Cooke for the 2015 vintage crowd.

Sam Cooke

Sam Cooke

Bridges’ resemblance to Sam Cooke is far from accidental. In fact he cites his discovery of Cooke as the turning point for his music. Although he first heard A Change Is Gonna Come a few years earlier, he didn’t reflect upon it until he began writing his own songs. Then it ignited an obsession. 

Often recalled as the inventor of soul music, Cooke’s influence was undeniably timeless and he has left behind a tremendous musical legacy. He can be credited with popularizing the likes of James Brown and Otis Reading, and paving the way for Al Green and Stevie Wonder. Yet his success is not limited to soul music, and folk-rock artist Art Garfunkel calls Cooke his hero. You only have to listen to the recordings of his lives shows, to realise the extent of his contributions to soul music. His 1963 performance at Miami’s Harlem Square Club was released as an album in 1985 and is considered to be among the best live recordings of all time. He had excellent vocal control, his style was simple and brave, and the strength of his voice was incomparable. His untimely death in 1964 left a vacuum in soul music. Although Marvin Gaye rapidly filled this, there is really none who has touched him since.

In his time, Sam Cooke’s engaging vocals and reliance on simple lyrics coupled with a catchy melody, was something entirely new. Recently, there has been a rise in musicians looking to the past for inspiration. Their music is a reflection of the 1960s rhythm and blues. Leon Bridges represents an imminent change in the music industry: his biggest hit to date is Coming Home and it echoes the simplicity of Cooke’s rhythmic musical arrangement. 

The fact that modern day artists are being inspired by artists recording over 50 years ago suggests the timelessness of the true innovators in music. Inspired by Cooke, Bridges looks set to create a new formula to create sound which will inspire others to follow.