Leon Bridges

Higher Ground Presents

Leon Bridges

Lianne La Havas

Thu, Sep 08, 2016

Doors: 7:15 pm / Show: 8:00 pm

Flynn Theatre

$52.50 | $44.00 | $33.50, plus $3 day of show

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This event is all ages

Leon Bridges
The river of soul music flows on deep and strong, and 25-year-old Leon Bridges is immersed in its life-giving current. The Forth Worth, Texas native and Columbia Records artist is currently preparing his debut album for release in the summer of 2015. "I'm not saying I can hold a candle to any soul musician from the '50s and '60s," Bridges says, "but I want to carry the torch."

Humility aside, Bridges' light is burning bright. Following the October, 2014 release of two tunes that set the on-line world aflame, and accompanied by intimate solo shows from London to Los Angeles and Nashville to New York, the singer and songwriter has proved himself a rare talent who can do smoldering ballads and elemental rock'n'roll with equal aplomb. While he appears to have emerged cut from the cloth and fully formed, Bridges explains in his dulcet voice how he came to be here now.

"As a kid I grew fascinated with modern R&B. In high school I'd try singing songs by Ginuwine and Usher," he explains, "and I thought well, maybe they weren't in my range." Instead, a lithe, nimble physicality led Leon to study dance at Tarrant County College in Fort Worth. "I'd been doing hip-hop dance since I was 11 years old," he says. "I knew there was a dance program there, and I started diving into ballet and jazz and modern technique and learning choreography. I thought that's what I wanted to do."

Native inspiration soon diverted his path. "A friend of mine brought his keyboard to school every day, and we'd have these little jam sessions, improvising, and I started to find my voice." One day a female friend asked Bridges to look after her guitar while she went to class. "I asked her to show me a couple chords first. And she did: A-minor and E-minor. I fell in love with their sound, and that's when I started writing songs, from those two chords."

That Bridges compositional bedrock began in a minor mode is revealing. At a moment when popular music seems in thrall to major chord sing-alongs, the blue hues of Bridges' tunes embrace a subtlety that feels wholly refreshing. "Based on my innocence on guitar and my lack of knowledge of the technical side, my songwriting is something I have to make on-point with melody and delivery to make it shine," he explains.

With a few early compositions tucked under his belt, a seeming dichotomy surfaced: Bridges' tunes sounded less like the modern R&B he'd grown up loving than a style he was, in fact, not very familiar with: classic soul. Furthermore, Bridges' sleek, fastidious fashion sensibility dovetailed with the songs he was writing. He began a tenderfoot period of apprenticeship playing coffeehouses in and around Fort Worth, slowly finding and refining his voice.

A turning point soon came via a pair of selvedge trousers. One night at an Austin bar Bridges was approached by a young woman who complimented him on his snazzy Wrangler's and said that he should meet her boyfriend, a fellow with a comparable sense of style. Her boyfriend turned out to be Austin Jenkins of the band White Denim. "I hadn't heard of White Denim at the time," Bridges says, "but I went and looked them up and thought yeah, that's interesting music." After Jenkins and his bandmate Joshua Block subsequently peeped Bridges perform at a low-key local show, they insisted Leon enter the studio to cut a few tracks on their burgeoning bank of vintage equipment.

That initial three-day session, with Jenkins and Block producing, yielded the recordings that set Bridges at the center of rapturous attention from aficionados and labels alike. The buttery, seductive "Coming Home" and the piston-driven, doo-wop flavored "Better Man" demonstrated Bridges' versatility. Inking with Columbia Records, whose roster includes a certain hero named Bob Dylan, was the outcome of courtship and deliberation. "Columbia has artists I look up to like Adele and Pharrell, as well as Raphael Saadiq and John Legend," says Bridges. "They way they value artistry makes it feel like home."

The early 2015 release of another new song, "Lisa Sawyer," has further burnished Bridges' promise. With its brushed snares and glowing brass, "Lisa Sawyer" is a remarkably assured offering from so young a talent. The song, about Bridges' mother, a woman "with the complexion of a sweet praline," has the flavor of one of Allen Toussaint's productions for the great Lee Dorsey. Connecting the sacred and the secular, "Lisa Sawyer" feels natural considering Bridges' churchgoing childhood. And by writing with specificity about his own family, Bridges is creating resonant work about the African-American experience.

"I have a lot of insecurities because I don't have a big powerhouse voice," he admits. "I'm not a shouter. I rely on phrasing to get my feeling across." Bridges' delivery exudes strength through tenderness. "I guess that's why I connected with Sam Cooke."

The name Sam Cooke has appeared frequently in Bridges' early notices in the press. The point of comparison is apt, but not initially intentional. "When I wrote 'Lisa Sawyer' I didn't know anything about old soul music," Leon says. "I was asked 'Is Sam Cooke one of your inspirations?' I had to say no, because I only knew Sam Cooke's 'A Change Is Gonna Come' from the movie Malcolm X, which I'd watched with my father. But from being asked about Sam Cooke and Otis Redding I started digging deeper into soul music from the '50 and '60s and realizing this is really the root of what I'm doing."

What to make of the fact that Bridges is working in a tradition whose existence he was initially only vaguely aware of? "It speaks to the gift God placed in me," Leon says, choosing his words carefully. "It humbles and wows me to think I was pulling from something I didn't really know about."

In the striking black-and-white images that have accompanied Leon's emergence, one photograph stands out. It depicts Bridges sauntering down a sunlit sidewalk, his shadow falling not behind him but stretching out in the direction of his forward stride. The implication is that Bridges is not walking away from the past, but moving forward with both family history and the tradition of soul music in full view. His ancestors and antecedents walk with him. "They're with me at all times," affirms Bridges. Steeped in tradition, drenched with intention and desire, Leon Bridges' soul music is happening here and now.
Lianne La Havas
Lianne La Havas
The young English singer/songwriter/guitarist Lianne La Havas's debut 2012 album Is Your Love Big Enough? received more accolades than many artists experience in their entire career. Sparked by a sensational introduction on Later with Jools Holland, the year-plus that followed the album's release included more than 120 shows across Europe, North America, and Japan—including two sold-out London shows at the O2 Shepherd's Bush Empire and a sold-out headline show at the Somerset House Summer Series—and a top five position on the UK chart. Is Your Love Big Enough? won iTunes' Album of the Year in the UK and earned Ivor Novello Best Album and Barclaycard Mercury Prize nominations.

The media concurred, with the Associated Press calling Is Your Love Big Enough? "Not just one of the year's best debuts, but one of the year's best albums," NPR praising "the sound of a new and electrifying voice," and the Los Angeles Times saying "With Is Your Love Big Enough?, Miss La Havas vaults right to the big leagues." Artists that La Havas had admired soon began reaching out to her, to express support and/or collaborate, including Prince, Stevie Wonder, Jill Scott and Justin Vernon (Bon Iver).

After touring for the album came to a close, it was time to reacquaint herself with family and old friends as La Havas returned to what she calls "real life." To recharge, she took a trip with her mother, who is of Jamaican heritage, to the Caribbean island. Little did she know that this holiday would sow the seeds for her next record.

"It turned out to be a life-changing experience," says La Havas (whose father is of Greek heritage). "I was brought up by my Jamaican grandparents, and I was well acquainted with a lot of their culture, like the food and the manner of their generation. So when I actually went there it was strangely familiar—but also completely unlike any other place that I'd been. It was just so amazing to know all about a place and to even be able to understand strong patois, without ever having been there."

During this time of self-discovery, La Havas enjoyed emotional reunions with long-lost relatives, spent time in Kingston's clubs, and even jammed in front of her family for the first time during a session with acclaimed dancehall/reggae producer Stephen McGregor. Discovering her roots inspired La Havas to reflect on the connections between the present and the past, which in turn sparked the songs that would become her future. "Everything seemed to have a lot more clarity, and I really wanted to speak about it," she says.

La Havas' new album, Blood, is a collection that shakes, shimmies, and swings with imaginative and immersive grooves. "It seems as though you hear music everywhere you go in Jamaica and there are gigs going on all the time at the beach," she says. "People appear to have an in-built ability to dance, which comes from a deep-rooted connection to the feeling in the music. I found a new way to enjoy rhythms and syncopation and how to interweave delicate guitar parts with more aggressive sounding beats. What I definitely took from Jamaica is how to write songs based on the feeling of the rhythm and to build from there, and I've applied that philosophy, in some form, to everything I've written thereafter."

The first single, "Unstoppable," is particularly indicative of that bass- and groove-orientated feeling. Produced and co-written by Adele/FKA twigs collaborator Paul Epworth and founded on an instrumental recording by The Invisible, "Unstoppable" is a song that La Havas wrote to help to repair a relationship that she had ended. "It represents having a new phase of understanding in our relationship. My former boyfriend was interested heavily in astronomy, so Paul and I wanted to find some way to relate galactic celestial speak to this love story to support its unconventional and multi-faceted nature."

Lyrically, the songs that emerged are almost all related to "the feeling of who you are and where you come from," she says. The centerpiece of that approach is "Green & Gold," which was written and produced with Jamie Lidell and Matt Hales. It weaves Jamaican and Greek imagery into an autobiographical narrative that offers insight into the "weird and wonderful journey that I've been on since I was a child" In fact, it was La Havas' second generation Greek-English father—a stonemason and enthusiastic accordion player and instrumentalist—who was the primary musical influence in her life and first taught her guitar and piano.

Family is of course a prominent theme on Blood, from "Fairytale"—about La Havas' close relative whose ability to suddenly become an "amazing and capable" single mother has been a source of inspiration—to "Good Goodbye," which addresses her dear friend losing her grandfather and also relates to her own grandmother. "It's about appreciating your elders, but also all of your loved ones," she explains. "If you have the opportunity, you should spend as much time with them as possible; if it's going to be goodbye, make sure it's a good one."

"Midnight" best encapsulates La Havas' adventures in life and music. "Being in Jamaica and writing this song really signified the coming of a new phase, as well as having a new understanding of everything as I enter my mid-20s and find a new sense of independence," she summarizes. "For me, it's got an overall sentiment of empowerment and emancipation."

That next stage commenced with a steady succession of guest appearances. There's been another recording with Is Your Love Big Enough? producer Matt Hales (who again collaborated with La Havas on Blood, notably on "Wonderful," which they co-wrote with Disclosure's Howard Lawrence) on the recent Aqualung track "Egg Shells," as well as guest vocals on Alt-J's "Warm Foothills" and Tourist's "Patterns."

Most extraordinary of all was La Havas' contribution to Prince's Art Official Age album (also on Warner Bros.), which was recorded over the course of a heady weekend at Paisley Park. "Anyone liking my music is great, but it's just a bit crazier when it's someone that you've admired all your life—memorized all of their lyrics, etc.—and they then turn out to be wonderful people that just happen to be like-minded."

Family and friends, the past and the future, and an international array of cultural influences are all part of a rich tapestry that makes up Blood. "I'm constantly surprised by the coincidences of life" admits Lianne. "The title Blood reminds me that there are connections between pretty much everything, no matter what."

With major summer shows already confirmed—including Glastonbury, Latitude and Bestival—followed by headline tours of the UK, USA, and Europe, the stage is set for Lianne La Havas to continue, as the Daily Mail predicted, her ascent as "Britain's next big female star.
Venue Information:
Flynn Theatre
153 Main Street
Burlington, VT, 05401