Jeff Bridges proved in Crazy Heart that he could carry a tune with heartrending beauty. For me, the music of Crazy Heart was better than the movie. Jeff Bridges may have left the character Bad Blake behind in a dusty Texas saloon but he hasn’t left music behind and on his first CD the Oscar winner shows that his talent for music was not mere movie magic.
Jeff Bridges’s self titled debut CD begins with the radio ready tune What a Little Bit of Love Can Do. The song is almost self consciously single ready with its fun groove, easy going vocals and catchy refrain. If I didn’t have so much respect for Jeff Bridges and his collaborator T-Bone Burnett I might accuse them of cynically prepping for a shot at being on the radio.
As if cleansing the palate of the predictably friendly vibe of What a Little Bit of Love Can Do; the next song, Falling Short, brings about a drugged up vibe of Johnny Cash crossed with Timothy Leary. On Falling Short Bridges lingers on images of death, God and the longtime philosophical question “Why are we here(?)” against a gentle yet insistent bass and acoustic guitar.
Falling Short leads into the more traditionally country sounding Everything but Love. Here Bridges offers simple, homespun wisdom about having everything from cars to a marble sink but it don’t mean nothing without love. While the song isn’t all that complex lyrically it has at least one beautiful passage: “All our dreams turn to ashes in the fire of loneliness.”
Things go weird again on the next track Tumbling Vine, a song that mixes odd lyrics with a stand up bass and a loose electric guitar to create a song that would be perfectly at home in a Tim Burton movie. As is the pattern of the record thus far, the next track, Nothing Yet, is a more traditional country ballad only with a slightly spacey, psychedelic lyric.
Nothing Yet offers what might fairly be considered a stoner’s lament: “I don’t trust the past anymore. It’s not the same as was before.” Year’s of altered consciousness will leave you with a past you can’t quite remember correctly. As Nothing Yet progresses, Bridges settles into the role of the sage and wise elder, gentle and enlightened; his experience is communicated by the weathered waver of his voice.
Because Nothing Yet happens to sound rather traditional, of course, the record would have to go another direction on the next track and so it does. Blue Car is a blues track about a beat up old car that’s good for ‘one more trip, one more trip to you.’ The metaphor is thick but not irritatingly obvious while the comfy blues vibe is charming even as Bridges’ voice comes up a little thin in a few spots.
Missed the Point is a rather sad little tune about wasted opportunities; chances to find joy passed up for the path of least resistance. The track is a slightly more straight forward version of Falling Short, forgoing that song’s weirdness for a more traditional country sound to back up the lamentations on missed opportunities and a life lived as a ‘master of mirrors and smoke.’
Again, as is the pattern of this wonderfully odd record, Missed the Point is followed by the strange and foreboding dirge Slow Boat, a six minute country/rock ballad delivered by Bridges in a voice that barely rises above a whisper yet is deep enough to evoke a comparison to Leonard Cohen.
Either Way is more traditional only in comparison to the oddity of Slow Boat. Like Slow Boat, the song is exceptionally slow in pace but lyrically, Jeff Bridges brings a theatrical flair that makes Either Way more accessible and entertaining. A lonely, plaintive electric guitar plays in the middle of the song as if being played at the intersection of a dusty highway in the middle of nowhere on a road that offers mystery “Either Way” you go.
Jeff Bridges closes with The Quest, which plays as a lyrical explanation of why Jeff Bridges decided to make this record. The great artists do new and exciting things because doing them is both exhilarating and terrifying. The Quest tells of a man who cannot coast for very long, a man who needs a challenge. What greater challenge for a man who has accomplished so much, as Bridges has, than to make his first record at the age of 62?
What a remarkable challenge it was and a remarkably successful one. Jeff Bridges is a terrific record; especially for a 62 year old music dabbler. I certainly don’t want Jeff Bridges to forsake the big screen for a steel guitar and a tour bus but I will eagerly take another record from Bridges so long as I get another True Grit, The Big Lebowski, or Crazy Heart.
Jeff Bridges was released on August 16th, 2011