Songs From the Lineup: Leon Bridges, ’River’

Songs From the Lineup is a review series that unpacks the musical lineup of Life Is Beautiful through individual songs by the featured artists. Look for weekly installments at, right up through the festival in September. Check out previous Songs From the Lineup here.

I’m an Indian who was born in Fiji, raised in a semi-religious Hindu household in Northern California and now resides in Sin City. I couldn’t tell you much about Christianity or the South. Yet, the song I’m most excited to see/hear at Life Is Beautiful is true southern gospel-blues. Let that be a testament to the power of Leon Bridges and his “River.”

The first single from Bridges’ highly praised 2015 Coming Home debut, “River” is beautiful in its simplicity. While the rest of the album has a brighter, retro-soul bounce, “River” is a stripped-down, solemn prayer. It’s just Leon, strumming his guitar, with a backup vocalist, a choir and a tambourine. It’s chilling, mesmerizing and healing. More than novel nostalgia, “River” is transportive. If you close your eyes while you listen to it, you might witness a baptism in the Mississippi. Its message is even simpler.

In his best channeling of Sam Cooke, the 27-year-old Texan tells us who he is: “a man with many crimes” desperately seeking salvation. He doesn’t list his sins, just that “there’s blood on my hands, and my lips are unclean”—but he doesn’t need to. We’ve all done dirt that Purell can’t clean.

Although the song is filled with Biblical references, Bridges isn’t preaching to us or trying to convert us, and maybe that’s why I’m drawn to the track. I heard it at a time when I was trying to find inner-peace and strengthen my relationships with those around me. Bridges found atonement in the waters of religion. I’m still searching for that within myself, but each listen of “River” brings me closer to it.

Vegas Seven