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August 1, 2021

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Finding the right sound in a hotel

GOLD-DIGGERS Sound” is an apropos name for the third studio album from an artist who struck it rich six years ago with his debut LP.

Leon Bridges’ music quickly earned him recognition. “Coming Home” was nominated for best R&B album at the 2015 Grammys. Three years later, his sophomore album “Bet Ain’t Worth the Hand” landed him his first Grammy award.

The fame that came next was an adjustment for Bridges. He lost his anonymity and felt isolated — an experience he details in the song “Blue Mesas.”

“When you take an insecure person and put them in the limelight, it’s a little hard to deal with that sometimes, you know?” he said.

The story behind the album’s name, though, is literal — Gold-Diggers is the name of the hotel where Bridges wrote and recorded his new material.

“I have been working and kind of digging and searching for the right sound over the course of two years,” Bridges said.

He wanted an R&B album “grounded with organic elements,” and Gold-Diggers was “the perfect place to house all of this music.”

Bridges held a Grammys party there in 2019 and after connecting with the space, decided he wanted the album experience to be immersive — he started a residency at the hotel, brought in collaborators and got to work.

As the musicians would jam and improvise, he sang melodies and phrases over the top, gradually shaping each song.

For some, he had a specific artist in mind, like Sade when he was writing “Magnolias.” But for most, he says he was just “doing me.”

“I didn’t necessarily have an idea of what the concept would be on some of them,” said Bridges.

But he knew he didn’t want to replicate the sound of his last two albums, and it was a conscious decision to stay unpredictable — calling growth and change inevitable.

“With each album, I want to continue reinventing myself as an artist,” he said.

In “Coming Home,” the influence of gospel music is pervasive. In “Good Thing,” Bridges leans on a more retro sound.

“When I first came in the game with ‘Coming Home,’ I was immediately pigeonholed and placed in a box,” he said.

The shift away from spiritual tracks correlated with his relationship with religion. While songs like “River” from his first album are rooted in Christian symbolism, numbers from the latest album like “Sho Nuff” are playfully sensual.

“I was apprehensive at that time, writing those songs out of fear of not being accepted,” said Bridges. “Currently, I don’t really know what my relationship with God is anymore, and I think there’s still some of those gospel undertones in the music, but it’s so liberating to just make the music that I want.”

Breaking out of the box is something he knows may have alienated some fans. But for any of the fans he lost, there were plenty he gained.

“Throughout my career, I’ve always been scrutinized for my music being essentially whitewashed,” he said. “But I can see via social media that there’s more black people engaging in and supporting the music.”

Bridges says it was initially “off putting” for him to hear criticism of his music, but he doesn’t think about it anymore. Rap and hip-hop culture are so inundated in the mainstream that even a Young Thug concert can have predominately white fans, he points out.

He believes artists like Lil Nas X and Lizzo are redefining the boundaries of black art that is accepted within the black community.

“You know, guys like Daniel Caesar, he was kind of on the forefront of that, and it’s really beautiful to see artists who don’t really fit the mold of what’s popular being embraced,” he said.




 

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