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Retro soul shines in Micah Edwards' Tiny Desk Contest entry 'Jean Leon'

A Houston store decorated with an old Pac-Man arcade game and a vintage typewriter sets the scene for Micah Edwards' Tiny Desk Contest entry, "Jean Leon" — and Edwards and his eight band members fill the space with a retro Texas soul sound to match. His upbeat sound and sentimental lyrics are part of what made his entry stand out to this year's Tiny Desk Contest judges (including Japanese Breakfast's Michelle Zauner, who highlighted the entry in the Tiny Desk Contest Top Shelf series) – it's one of a handful of impressive entries Weekend Edition is featuring this month.

Edwards says he wrote the song, which is the title track of his debut record, about weighing some heavy relationship decisions. "On the surface, it sounds like a summer bop," he tells Weekend Edition's Ayesha Rascoe. "But when you look into the lyrics a little bit," he adds with a laugh, "you're like, 'Ooh man, maybe I should be crying!' " When he wrote the song, his parents were going through a divorce. "It's really me singing to my parents' marriage and the expectations I had for myself as a husband and a father," he says.

Edwards takes influence from 1970s Texas soul artists, but also drew on many different sounds in crafting his album. "What I'm trying to create is a blend of that retro vibe with country and Americana," he explains — to "create that's uniquely my own and I could really be proud of," he says.

Family and faith are two major themes in his music, and Edwards says spirituality plays an important role in his creative process. "I was able to use songwriting as a way to process pain and frustration and confusion and grief and loss," he explains. "Spirituality and my faith was the only way I got through the past few years." He says he uses music to process baggage from the family he grew up with and to guide the family he's building now. "I took it to Jesus and he just so happened to give me melodies back," says Edwards. "I know this [album] is gonna be a time capsule because the Lord has more for us, more for my family, more for me. We're gonna grow through this," he adds.

He knows everyone who listens to the album won't have the same experiences with faith that he has, but there's a message he wants all listeners to know: "The lies we hear about ourselves are so wrong – whether it's family or your boss or society telling you who you are or this is where you're gonna be. All of that's just noise. The only person that can define where you're headed is you."

Web adaptation by Elle Mannion. You can head here to read, listen and watch more from the 2022 Tiny Desk Contest.

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Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.
Isabella Gomez Sarmiento is a production assistant with Weekend Edition.