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Published: 2011/10/04
by Sam Robertson

Jeff Bridges
Jeff Bridges

Blue Note

When I learned that Jeff Bridges was recording an album with famed producer T-Bone Burnett my excitement was mixed with fear that the new self-titled album could be no more than cashing in on the success of Crazy Heart. Bridges won an Academy Award for Crazy Heart, in which he played Bad Blake, a drunken, troubled but talented country singer trying to prove his best days aren’t behind him. And in many ways, this album is a continuation of the role Bridges’ played in Crazy Heart. He enlists the help of some of his buddies from the movie, including songwriters Stephen Bruton, John Goodwin and Ryan Bingham, who each wrote songs that Bridges performs in the film. While listening to Bridges’ new album, it’s a challenge to separate him from the grizzled character of Bad Blake, but that may not be a bad thing.

Like the songs from Crazy Heart, Jeff Bridges’ newest batch of songs are country ballads that sound like they could have been written anytime over the last fifty years. Featuring Bridges’ gravelly voice and twangy pedal steel guitar, most of these tunes would have fit right in with the soundtrack of Crazy Heart. Jeff Bridges’ new album may build off of his role of Bad Blake, but that performance was hardly his introduction to country music and rock and roll, and he manages to pull off these songs with surprising authenticity.

Though always overshadowed by his monstrously successful acting career, Bridges has always had a passion for music, and released his first album over ten years ago. That album was dismissed as little more than a Hollywood star taking advantage of money and free time to pursue a creative calling they may or may not have talent for. But because of Bridges’ stunning Academy Award-winning portrayal of country singer Bad Blake in Crazy Heart, this album has been taken much more seriously, and deservedly so. Yes it’s true, if Bridges had not recently starred in Crazy Heart, this album would not be getting the same positive critical attention it has received. But you can’t let that take away from the quality of the album, and the bottom line is that these are some pretty good songs.

The album opens with “What A Little Bit of Love Can Do.” Written by the late Stephen Bruton, Bridges’ good friend who wrote songs for Crazy Heart, “What A Little Bit of Love Can Do,” is catchy, breezy country rock with a Buddy Holly-like bounce. The T-Bone Burnett assembled band can pull off rootsy Americana as good as anyone, and Bridges’ lead vocals and Ryan Bingham’s harmonies are fantastic.

The album’s next song is titled “Falling Short,” and appropriately a chunk of the rest of the album falls a bit short of the high standard set by “What A Little Bit of Love Can Do.” “What A Little Bit of Love Can Do” is followed by a few slightly inconsistent, dirge-like folksongs, with “Blue Car” feeling particularly uninspired, while Bridges’ own composition, “Tumbling Vine,” is overly wordy but saved by some searing lead guitar from T-Bone Burnett. The John Goodwin penned “Nothing Yet” and “Maybe I Missed The Point” both featuring road-weary vocals from Bridges’ and soothing harmonies from Roseanne Cash, fare much better. Goodwin collaborated with Burnett on songs for Crazy Heart, so it’s no wonder that the songs written by he and Bruton are the strongest on the album. For this album, Bridges undoubtedly leans on his talented musician friends from Crazy Heart, but he can certainly play the part of a country singer who’s seen it all, and his friends craft songs that fit his rough-hewn vocals like a glove.

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