The late film critic Pauline Kael once said that Jeff Bridges was "the most natural and least self-conscious actor who ever lived." Those words appeared in her review of the 1973 film The Last American Hero, when Bridges was just 23, decades before the actor made good on that description and won an Oscar for his deeply affecting portrayal of the grizzled former country music star Bad Blake in 2009's Crazy Heart.
Miraculously, the same phrase can be applied to Bridges' abilities as a musician: He did his own singing and guitar playing in Crazy Heart, and who can forget his jazzy tinkling of the ivories, along with his brother Beau, in 1989's The Fabulous Baker Boys?
Fact is, Bridges has been a musician as long as he’s been acting (in his teens he played guitar in bands and has continued to jam with friends), and while his self-titled major-label debut isn’t his first time at the rodeo (in 2000 he released Be Here Soon on his own Ramp Records), it does mark the beginning of something truly startling and exciting: Jeff Bridges, world-class recording artist.
The album, due out 16 August, features several of Bridges’ own compositions, along with material by a host of friends and collaborators (most notably John Goodwin and the late Stephen Bruton, the latter of whom served as a guitar coach to the actor on Crazy Heart).
Produced by longtime pal and associate T Bone Burnett, who oversaw the soundtrack to Crazy Heart, the record sees Bridges backed by a stellar group of players, among them guitarists Marc Ribot, bassist Dennis Crouch, pedal steel guitarist Russ Pahl and drummer Jay Bellerose, as well as guest vocalists Roseanne Cash, Ryan Bingham (who won an Oscar with Burnett for co-writing Crazy Heart’s The Weary Kind), Sam Phillips and Benji Hughes.
Not a bad bunch, but the heart and soul of Jeff Bridges, the album, is Jeff Bridges the musician, who, true to Kael’s summation, infuses his songs (a seamless blend of unvarnished country-rock, mood country and a couple of art pieces that defy easy categorization) with a natural, unbridled spirit. But he also brings something more vital to the proceedings that he simply couldn’t have in 1973: a lifetime of living, of taking in the highs and lows, using what’s important and discarding what isn’t. Bridges brings all of himself to the music here, and that’s a man, and artist, in full.
Now, let’s go through Jeff Bridges, the album, track by track.