Review: Does Jeff Bridges make Bad Blake proud on his self-titled debut album?
Is Jeff Bridges’ new self-titled album a case of life imitating art? Given that he won an Oscar last year for playing down-and-out country singer Bad Blake in “Crazy Heart,” it’s certainly understandable that fans of the movie star might think he’s simply continuing on that musical trajectory.
The truth is Bridges has been making music as long, if not longer, than he’s been acting. At a concert at Los Angeles’ legendary club The Troubadour last month, Quincy Jones introduced Bridges by telling a story about using a song written by a then 17-year old Bridges and his brother Beau on the soundtrack for 1969's "John & Mary." Prior to this, his Blue Note Records debut, Bridges released an album, "Be Here Soon," in 2000 on Ramp Records, a label he started with Michael McDonald.
That ease of having made music for decades is evident on the set, out Aug. 16, as Bridges sounds right at home. Some of that also comes from producer T Bone Burnett bolstering Bridges’ performance with absolute top-shelf musicians, including Marc Ribot’s delightfully expressive guitar work, Jay Bellarose’s always on point drumming, and Dennis Crouch’s tasteful bass. Bridges and Burnett, or “Bone, as Bridges calls him, have been friends for more than 30 years and, in fact, each agreed to work on “Crazy Heart” only if the other one would participate.
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As viewers of that movie know, Bridges’ voice is deep, gravelly, a little rough around the edges, and, dare we say it, full of grit. By selecting songs by many of the songwriters who penned tunes for “Crazy Heart,” including the late Stephen Bruton and John Goodwin, and by staying primarily in the same alt-country, largely acoustic sweet spot as Bad Blake, Bridges and Burnett have crafted an effort that will sound both familiar to “Crazy Heart” fans as well as show a few different facets of Bridges.
For example, it’s hard to imagine Bad Blake singing about being “buddhistly bent” or exploring “the freedom that I have been sent” in the atmospheric “Tumbling Vine,” one of two tunes penned by Bridges here. On the other hand, first single and opening track, the pleasingm infectious shuffler “What A Little Bit Of Love Can Do,” was written for “Crazy Heart,” but didn’t make the cut (Ryan Bingham, who co-wrote Oscar-winning tune, "The Weary Kind," for the movie with Burnett" sings back-up on the track). The Bruton track is the most mainstream cut on the set. At the opposite end is the swampy, muddled “Slow Boat,” also penned by Bridges. He largely speaks his lyrics on the soporific tune that seems stream-of-consciousness. Roseanne Cash sings back-up, which, along with the guitar work, is the best thing about the song. Sam Phillips also shows up on a few tracks as well.
Most of the songs here are about life’s bigger questions, such as on the delightfully funny “Maybe I Missed The Point,” or the hypnotic “Either Way,” during which Bridges declared “I was going too fast in the breakdown lane.” Album closer, “The Quest,” ties it all up as Bridges addresses a fundamental restlessness that occurs as he ages. I’ve interviewed Bridges a number of times over the last two years, and rare has there been a time when his feelings of mortality didn’t come up. This often reflective album fits in perfectly with his mindset: time is fleeting and there’s work here still to be done.
Some will dismiss this as nothing more than a vanity project, but there’s too much heart and talent here to reject it so readily. However, if you didn’t like Bridges’ singing in “Crazy Heart,” you won’t like it any better here.
As noted in this story I wrote for The Washington Post, Bridges is just one of three award-winning actors putting out music around now. Tim Robbins released “Tim Robbins & The Rogues Gallery Band” in July, while “House” star Hugh Laurie recorded a collection of New Orleans blues tunes for “Let Them Talk,” out Sept. 6.
The video for "What A Little Bit Of Love Can Do," with a trippy cameo by Gregg Allman, is below.