Leon Bridges' Heartbreaking Video for "River" is a Thing of Beauty

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"River," one of the standout tracks from Leon Bridges' 2015 debut Coming Home, thrives on its understatement. A contrast to the R&B bounce of singles like the title track or "Better Man," "River" is stripped down and bare, mostly Bridges with his guitar, his voice and his demons. In many ways, it's the soul of the album, and now we have an official video to go with it — one matches all the best qualities of the song itself.

Shot in Baltimore and directed by Miles Jay, "River" is oblique, all tone and subtly over plot or narrative. Bridges, joined by singer Brittni Jessie (who appears on the original track as well), camps out in a dimly lit hotel room, with the studio version of the song spliced in with snippets of new recordings. Playing off the religious undertones and Biblical references of the lyrics, the video jumps back and forth between the hotel and a young father, first appearing with a blood-spattered shit, stumbling home to be with his son.

That's about it from a formal standpoint, but there are layers beneath it: In particular, the candlelight vigil (how did that shirt get covered in blood, after all?), the coming storm and the fact that all of the characters in the video are African American accentuate the social implications of Bridges' words. The spiritual cleansing that he seeks out has to do with far more than his own personal struggles.

It's a moving reminder, too, that while Bridges' sound has a throwback feel to it, his heart and his soul are firmly in the present.

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