After touring together, the psych-funk trio and the soul singer head into the studio for an EP that’s both tantalizing and a little half-baked.
From their respective metropolises, Khruangbin and Leon Bridges offer fascinating variations on the notion of “Texas music.” The Fort Worth-based Bridges explores a strain of soul that is more closely associated with Mississippi and Chicago than the Lone Star State, while Houston trio Khruangbin dabbles in a strain of globally minded, stoner-friendly psychedelia that authorities didn’t always look upon so kindly. Today, both artists find themselves rising stars, garnering millions of streams and promoting the vision of a more diverse and open-minded Texas, the one that leads to headlines like this.
The two teamed up for a joint North American tour in 2018, but heading into the studio together wasn’t an obvious next step. Their partnership might pay dividends down the road, but at four songs in 20 minutes, Texas Sun is both tantalizing and a little half-baked. The title track gives a glimpse of how each party might bolster the other: Khruangbin bassist Laura Lee, guitarist Mark Speer, and drummer Donald Johnson impart some much-needed looseness and pliancy to Bridges’ vocals, while the singer in turn grounds their wandering with song structures and sturdy vocals. “Texas Sun” is a simmering road-trip number, with Bridges’ delivery rendering that oppressive sun into something more mellow. Khruangbin provides a head-nodding beat, but for all of their synergy, the result still resembles boilerplate Bob Seger.
The slinky “Midnight” could have been cribbed from a Numero Group Eccentric Soul compilation. Bridges’ lyrics again situate us in a moving vehicle, this time at night instead of the sweltering midday heat. They conjure a wistful mood, with lyrics that detail a new love in the passenger seat, cruising around with no particular destination in mind, smoking with the windows down, the backseat beckoning from the rearview mirror. “Put on your lavender/Perfume and a nice dress,” Bridges croons sweetly.
“C-Side” boasts the sultriest groove, with Lee’s loping bassline riding behind a clopping cowbell and mallet percussion. But Bridges’ chorus is diffuse and unmemorable, and the percolating beat lingers in the mind for longer than the words. The smoky minor-key ballad “Conversion” (which has its roots in the gospel hymn “At the Cross”) showcases Bridges’ honeyed, unhurried delivery at its most effective. If anything, the four songs leave you wanting more from this collaboration, offering up brief, blurry glimpses of their Texas landscape rather than the expansive vistas that they might arrive at should they ride together a little longer.
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