Since a very young age, I’ve acknowledged the fact that music with soul rivets me in a way that is too great to express. It’s a feeling of emotional authenticity, heart-wrenching in the best way possible. It makes me bob my head and squint my eyes – and I’m not kidding, I actually do squint my eyes. It’s a thing, I promise!
Soul music is such an important genre because it’s literally emotion put to music. Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin – regarded as king and queen of soul by many – paved the way through soul, gospel, and rhythm & blues, achieving iconic careers for creating iconic music. Soul music is more than just a good song – it’s the feeling within the song, the beat, the subject matter – that grabs onto the listener’s heart and squeezes the life out of it.
Since I’ve started writing Music Mondays, I’ve wanted to talk about these artists, so I finally decided to do a compilation post of the three of them. If you love music with a conscience, carried by some great grooves and a little bit of southern twang, you need to hear what these guys can do.
1 // Anderson East
My aunt introduced me to the music of Anderson East earlier this year. It was love at first listen. He is a fantastic embodiment of the “Muscle Shoals sound”, if I can be bold enough to say that. His music has been referred to as progressive soul, southern soul, and Americana. Warning: if you Google him, a bunch of pictures of Miranda Lambert will pop up because, well, he’s dating her. Let’s pray for some musical babies people!
Growing up in Athens, Alabama, Michael Anderson began writing music in high school. After studying music engineering at Middle Tennessee State University, he moved to Nashville, working as a recording engineer, playing sessions, and landing gigs such as the opening slot for Holly Williams, Nashville singer/songwriter and the daughter of Hank Williams Jr. In July 2015, he released his first major label record, entitled Delilah, under the name Anderson East. Delilah was received well by critics; his hit single, “Satisfy Me”, was consistently picked up for radio airplay. He also recorded R&B singer/songwriter George Jackson’s song, “Find ‘Em, Fool ‘Em, And Forget ‘Em” for the album at the historic FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama (fun fact, my grandma lives right across the street!)
Growing up with a Baptist preacher for a grandfather and both parents being involved in their church’s choral program, it is only natural that East’s music is heavily influenced by the passion of gospel. His sound is vintage, abundant with soul and supported with southern roots. “Only You”, the first track on the album, will make you want to dance through a diner in 1962, complete with a checker board floor and a milkshake. It’s got such a phenomenal groove to it. Showcasing a more acoustic country side of himself, “What A Woman Wants To Hear” paints a love story that you just can’t help but feel. Those are my two favorite tracks on the album, but I highly recommend listening to it from start to finish. I’m really enjoying his music, and I already can’t wait to hear more.
2 // Leon Bridges
Similar to Anderson East with a vintage sound and gospel-driven undertones, Leon Bridges will take you to church. “River” was one of the first Leon songs I’d ever hear, and it still gets me every time. His music is spiritually raw and brimming with honesty, in both his 60s R&B sound and his impassioned lyrics. Hailing from Fort Worth, Texas, Leon began writing and performing his nostalgic tunes around the area, eventually catching the attention of Austin Jenkins and Joshua Block of the Austin rock band, White Denim. Jenkins and Block helped him release a couple of tracks on SoundCloud in 2014, including his highly successful single, “Coming Home”, which exploded on radio. Leon was eventually signed by Columbia Record later in 2014, consequently ending his career as a restaurant dishwasher. Sucks, right? In 2015, he released his debut album, also titled Coming Home, which was nominated for Best R&B Album at the 58th Annual Grammy Awards.
I have an ongoing list of albums that I would love to own on vinyl, and Coming Home is one of them. It’s just so classic. I enjoy listening to the entire record, from start to finish; it transports me to a state of blissful nostalgia for a time that I wasn’t even alive to experience. “Better Man” and “Brown Skin Girl” are two of my favorite songs. If you have an ear for music similar to the likes of Sam Cooke (of whom Leon was compared to by The Wall Street Journal), I highly recommend Leon Bridges.
3 // Parker Millsap
Rooted deeper in the sounds of southern rock and country/bluegrass, Parker Millsap’s music is gritty, emotive, and lyrically sermonizing. Growing up in Purcell, Oklahoma, in a family that attended the Pentecostal church three times each week, you can hear the fire and brimstone influence through his lyrics. He started playing guitar at the age of nine, and was influenced by Stevie Ray Vaughn and Eric Clapton, along with the plethora of blues music he was exposed to by his parents as a kid. He has released three studio albums, Palisade (2012), Parker Millsap (2014), and The Very Last Day (2016). He has also opened for a number of successful artists like Patty Griffin, Old Crow Medicine Show, and Jason Isbell.
I first heard the song “A Little Fire”, off of his most recent album, on Spotify earlier this year, and my attention was immediately captured. He has a very unique voice – a whisper-y tone with raspy vibrato. I also really fell in love with his sound; the croon of the blues, as well as the gentleness of bluegrass, are present, and blended together by his memorable melodies and soulful delivery. Once you listen to him, you’ll know what I mean. I’ve found that “Heaven Sent”, also off of The Very Last Day, and “Old Time Religion” from Parker Millsap, to be some of my favorite tracks.
One thing is for sure, with artists like these, soul music will never die.
It is evident that Anderson East, Leon Bridges, and Parker Millsap all have an appreciation for the genre as they create soulful music that is often pushed to the side by a world seemingly obsessed with the surface-skimming superficialities of mainstream country and pop. There is an indescribable realness and candor to their material that I really admire and commend. I encourage y’all to check out all three of these fantastic artists – if you do, please let me know which is your favorite in the comments below!
(I own none of the photos used in this post – see captions for credits)
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