There has always been a stigma attached to actors who become successful and suddenly want to be rock stars. Visions of Kevin Bacon, Keanu Reeves and Russell Crowe spring to mind when one thinks about this phenomenon. Usually the sad truth is that these actors would have been much better served shooting another film or two than jumping into the recording studio. For Jeff Bridges though, his debut album “Jeff Bridges” brings heart, soul, and equal parts rock and country for an end result that is catchy and very listenable.
Bridges’ album has a very closely related sound to rock and roll icon Tom Petty. Perhaps it’s the fact that Bridges uses big hollow-bodied Gretsch guitars like Petty or Mike Campbell of The Heartbreakers. There is an undeniable Petty-like quality to the songs that I wasn’t expecting to hear. Though these days you can never tell thanks to thinks like pitch correction, Bridges sings with conviction, heart and copious amounts of character. That’s a vital element to his songs, his ability to actually sing and not sound like every run of the mill actor-turned-singer.
Bridges appeared on “The Colbert Report” last Wednesday and did a short but delightful and almost heartwarming interview followed by a live performance. This to me was the litmus test. Anyone with a big enough budget and a good enough producer and engineer can put out an album that sounds great, but whether or not that album’s songs can be effectively presented in a live situation is where the rubber hits the road for most celebrity bands. It’s not hard to wind up in the Corey Feldman camp if one can’t actually perform live.
Bridges performed the title track on his album, “What a Little Bit of Love Can Do.” The slightly over-driven guitars and Bridges’ voice were perfectly mixed and the performance came through brilliantly. No, you’re not going to see the 61-year-old actor stage dive, bang his head or trash his guitar through his amp at the end of his song. However, what you will get out of a performance from Bridges is a tight, well written song that’s performed beautifully.
If I had one critique of the album in general it’s that the title tracks is a bit misleading. Most of the songs following it don’t quite ever match its tempo and feeling. I would have liked a couple more upbeat tracks to go along with the rest of the album which is a bit more laid-back and subdued. However, Bridges should be commended for not shying away from singing the slower and more stripped-down songs, exposing himself to more critique by removing the big, loud guitars in favor of some more subtlety and character.
It shouldn’t be any surprise that Jeff Bridges could sing and play guitar of course. He won the Best Actor Oscar in 2010 for his turn as a grizzled and road-worn musician in “Crazy Heart.” Wisely, Bridges tapped the writer of that film’s original music, T-Bone Burnett, to serve as producer and help write the songs for his album. Knowing not to fix what’s not broken is the sign of a smart artist.
This weekend my Blu Ray copy of “The Big Lebowski” came in the mail. Fresh from giving his album a spin, I decided to put in the Coen Brothers’ classic comedy, making it a Jeff Bridges Marathon Weekend in my home. Not that I needed it, but watching that film for what surely must have been the 500th time in my life, I was reminded that there really isn’t much that Jeff Bridges cannot do. Whether he’s completely transforming himself into a middle aged stoner thrust into a the role of private detective or whether he’s performing heartfelt and genuine, perfect crafted songs, Jeff Bridges is able to do what so many actors before him failed miserably at accomplishing: he crosses over.