Music has, down the years, suffered a litany of actors-tuned-musicians, most of them arguably listening to their egos rather than the evidence of their own ears (known in some circles as “doing a Shatner”). In other cases, extreme hubris means that Hollywood actors normally used to receiving applause instead turn up to festivals to be greeted by bottles of urine flying at them through the air. It’s rare that projects like this work, but if anyone is likely to buck the trend it’s Jeff Bridges, one of the coolest men in movies. But is this album a case of The Dude abides or being forced to abide with The Dude?
Bridges has always been a keen musician, but it was his Oscar winning turn as a burnt out country singer in Crazy Heart that firmly brought this to our attention. The songs Bridges performs in the film were lauded and the decision to produce an album seems like a logical next move. He also has a long-standing friendship with producer T Bone Burnett and this album represents the culmination of that friendship.
The album’s cover shows Bridges looking every inch like a country star – a casual glance makes you think of a Kris Kristofferson stunt double. In fact it was Kristofferson who introduced Bridges to T Bone Burnett on the set of the otherwise doomed Heaven’s Gate. Burnett’s repertory of session musicians will certainly sound familiar to many and the trademark sound witnessed by the massive success of Robert Plant and Alison Krauss’ Raising Sand looms large over this work.
The majority of the album is made up of world-class songwriters, but Bridges does get to add some of his own compositions. Most of these songs work well and hold their own in the company of the other tracks. Opening number What A Little Bit Of Love Can Do ropes you in with a radio-friendly toe-tapping single, but thereafter the album takes on a more laid-back and reflective tone where country mingles with the blues. This settles in nicely and capitalises on the regretful Crazy Heart persona as well as the grizzly warmth of Bridges’ vocals – the track Nothing Yet is a good example of this introspection. Things end on a more hopeful note with The Quest, where the singer grows weary of looking back and starts to head off down the road to the next adventure.
If you’re a fan of Burnett’s sound or just plain curious you’ll find this a welcome project that does exactly what it sets out to do. It’s not going to reach Raising Sand levels of success, but it’s a difficult album to dislike. Far from being an exercise in ego, this album shows us that if Hollywood stops knocking on his door then Bridges will certainly find Nashville filling the vacuum nicely.