Leon Bridges is a grammy-nominated singer-songwriter originating from Atlanta, Georgia. Bridges may only be at the tender age of 26, but possesses a soul in his voice reminiscent from times gone by. In the early years he would perform open-mic nights around the area of Fort Worth whilst working as a dishwasher. After convening with guitarist Austin Jenkins and Joshua Block of White Denim, Bridges’ profile was to rise. This friendship led to the recording of an album and two demo songs released on Soudcloud later, ‘Coming Home’was gaining radio attention. Record labels caught on and Bridges was signed to Columbia Records in late December 2014. One month later Bridges was on his first national tour and the Columbia released single ‘Coming Home’ became a top 10 viral track on Spotify within the month of its release. Media attention rose, he gained publicity covering the Fort Worth, Texas magazine in May 2015 as well as a stunning NPRperformance. Bridges also supported Pharrell Williams at the Apple Music Festival, the second time Bridges performed in the UK to a full crowd.
He has just released the visual for the last song off the 2015 released album Coming Home, ‘River’ and brings his old soul strongly into the present, through visions of Baltimore. LeonBridges utilizes powerful imagery to embody the elegiac, Gospel inspired song ‘River’. The video directed by Miles Jay , thematically impresses throughout, promising the message that when there was once darkness, there will be light. More prominent, is the fact that this video is real, depicting not only American society but the themes running throughout it today.
Filmed on location in Baltimore, the video draws heavily from the recent Baltimore uprising and includes an extended vigil scene. The footage only possible due to the support of the members of the West Wednesday Movement a centrepiece of the Baltimore protest movement, created by the family of Tyrone West, who died while in custody of the Baltimore police department in 2013.
The video begins with the angelic humming of Bridges’ acquaintance strolling through the empty corridors of a motel. Everything seems so desolate. As she enters the room Leon is in, we hear him strumming the beginning chords of the song before it develops into the instrumental, in its entirety. In the background the TV plays with flickering images of Allen Bullock striking the wind-shield of a car with a cone, one of the most iconic and moving images from the Baltimore Uprising. The camera zooms out and the faint strumming becomes much louder and Bridges serenades us with “Take me to your river”. River obviously being taken in the gospel sense to wash away the bad, the sin and the darkness.
Something that LeonBridges himself strongly alludes to when describing the song:
“ A river has historically been used in gospel music as symbolism for change and redemption. My goal was to write a song about my personal spiritual experience. It was written during a time of real depression in my life and I recall sitting in my garage trying to write a song which reflected this struggle. I felt stuck working multiple jobs to support myself and my mother. I had little hope and couldn’t see a road out of my reality. The only thing I could cling to in the midst of all that was my faith in God and my only path towards baptism was by way of the river.”
Miles Jay, brings these words into images. Throughout the video there is a strong sense of waiting, waiting for this river, waiting for this rain. The rain to wash away all the negatives and to provide purity to those lives ending and those just beginning, represented by the child. Before the rain the video explores the unique struggle many black men and women face across the country, through many lenses. From the balloons rising for those deceased to the father and his crying son. When the rain arrives, those who have suffered are united by it, father embraces son, mother embraces child and the community is seen dancing in the rain. This is even through all the injustice, demonstrating the real hope left in this world.
The attention to detail throughout this video is startling, from the thud in the glass of water created by the guitar strum to the crisp quality of the filming.
And as the video ends with Leon Bridges going out to embrace the Gospel rain, there is perhaps no better welcome to the start of black history month. No better welcome of the light and to the pure. This is a song sang with the soul of age and struggle but with the energy of now.