At age 26, Leon Bridges sings and writes like someone who’s visiting from the late ‘50s; someone who has 100 years worth of stories and should have a face textured by wrinkles and a posture crooked from hunching over his guitar. But while his sound is firmly rooted in the past, his heart’s clearly in the present -- something he proved today with his new video for “River.”
“River” is the closing track on Bridges’ debut album, the Grammy-nominated Coming Home, and it’s certainly the soul of the collection. “In my darkness I remember/ Mama’s words reoccur to me/ ‘Surrender to the good lord/ And he’ll wipe your slate clean,’” he sings, soundtracking an attempt at spiritual cleansing that’s at once aching and hopeful.
The track’s accompanying video intensifies that feeling brilliantly by anchoring it to racial injustice and the resilient spirit of black lives. It opens with Bridges and vocalist Brittni Jessie making music in a motel room as footage of last year’s Baltimore uprising plays on the television. Filmed on location in Baltimore, we see scenes of pain and of healing, and we hear pauses and vocals rawer than on the song’s recorded version. And ultimately, we see the ballad’s healing powers get a timely and affecting narrative, as water becomes a purifier and hope is restored.
In a note posted to Twitter, Bridges wrote about his inspiration for the song and the video, explaining that it’s meant to be a “message of light.”