Jeff Bridges is an actor for whom there is a lot of public goodwill, so he’s well-placed to have a go at a sideline music career, especially given his recent Oscar for playing a country singer in Crazy Heart. However, his self-titled second album (the first was released 11 years ago with much less fanfare) hasn’t been met with too much critical acclaim, with all the usual reviews complaining about a lack of authenticity, the kind of remark that also met Hugh Laurie’s album earlier in the year.
It is a fairly understandable complaint, of course. Both Bridges and Laurie are excellent actors and are therefore very good at taking on a role, whether it’s The Dude or Prince George from Blackadder The Third. So why should we take them at face value when they present themselves as country-tinged singer-songwriters or blues pianists? Their fame is both their biggest selling-point and their biggest complication, so the only fair judgement has to ignore it and concentrate on the music.
For me, both of their albums are worthy enough on that count. I’ve already written about Laurie, whose album is easy to write off as a posh English white man playing black music from New Orleans, but Bridges is a lot closer to home on his album. Working with T-Bone Burnett (as he did on Crazy Heart), he’s very comfortable and convincing in this role as an amiable singer-songwriter playing off his influences in country and rock music.
Opener and lead single What A Little Bit Of Love Can Do is a great introduction, fast-paced and memorable, with Burnett’s production oozing class around the ragged-but-full-of-character vocals. Bridges could never win The X-Factor, but compare his voice to ‘proper’ musicians of his age (he’s 61!) and it’s no weaker than most, and he puts it to sensible use throughout.
There’s two self-penned tracks on here, Falling Short and Tumbling Vine, and while neither are ground-shaking, they’re both signs that he knows what he’s doing, with the latter particularly atmospheric. Certainly you can’t accuse Bridges of taking the easy route to music success, which would probably have been either a straightforward country-rock album (which this certainly isn’t) or a collection of Dylan covers (he did record an excellent version of The Man In Me – famously used in The Big Lebowski – recently).
If you heard it and didn’t know it was by a big Hollywood actor, you would take this album as being a pretty good collection of music, well-produced and performed with plenty of genuine heart. Is he a better musician than actor? No, certainly not, but does that mean he shouldn’t branch out? No, certainly not. Jeff Bridges has earned the goodwill we all have for him with a series of great performances in great films and by genuinely seeming like a really nice guy. And his occasional dabbling in music (like his photography) only adds to that for me.
If you don’t agree, well, you know, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.