Blue Note Records, 2011
REVIEW BY: Josh Allen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 11/10/2011
After having seen his magnificent musical performances in the movie Crazy Heart, and being the The Big Lebowski zealot that I am, my initial reaction to the news that Jeff Bridges would release a record was something like:
“Whoa, The Dude is releasing a country album?”
Not many figures in the film industry can legitimately pull off such a feat while boasting appearances in movies from pretty much every genre out there. It may be far-fetched to make that transition into the music industry, but if anyone had the versatility to do it, it'd be Jeff Bridges.
With the steady guiding hand of prolific Americana producer T-Bone Burnett, Bridges performs ten tightly performed compositions on Jeff Bridges. The album plods at a walking pace, each track having just barely enough texture. Bridges's low-key vocals lead unassuming, old-school country instrumentation: guitars, backing vocals (including Rosanne Cash and Ryan Bingham cameos) and prominent pedal steel and acoustic bass.
When I first spun the album, I was expecting music that more closely mimicked Bridges' upbeat performances on the Crazy Heart soundtrack, such as “Fallin' and Flyin'.” However, many of the tracks on Jeff Bridges tend to lull the listener with ultra-mellow rhythms and pensive lyrics.
“Nothing Yet” typifies this style as it trudges through sleepy steel guitar accents as Bridges offers reflective advice, “Everything I've learned came hard and slow / And if it's as bad or good as it can get / Well, you ain't seen nothing yet.” “Falling Short” and “Everything But Love” are strikingly similar. But even if they are usually slow-paced downers, there's certainly a charm about the introspective atmosphere they create that country music connoisseurs will appreciate. Not so with “Slow Boat,” which crawls unbearably lethargically through Bridges' bellowing vocals for six minutes; right about here, it's hard to ignore the monotony of some of the album's tracks.
Jeff Bridges and company do strike some gold with a few change-ups. “Tumbling Vine” stands out as an offbeat gem. “Here is the freedom / I have been sent / I'm delighted / I'm buddhistly bent,” Bridges curiously croons through bass-driven triple-meter rhythms, and the track closes with a mildly ghostly minute-long instrumental section. “Maybe I Missed The Point” again features regretful lyrics, but this time with a more assertive voice and a hook that easily sticks with you for hours. “The Quest” closes the album on a more hopeful note, as the chorus this time punctuates each contemplative verse with a call to press forward.
Jeff Bridges may not be the stuff of legend, but it holds its own within the Americana musicscape. It's got its bright spots, but as a whole, the album just plays too sleepily and monotonously to be more than average.
(And I can just hear The Dude shrugging off this lukewarm review with the timeless philosophical words, “Yeah, well, you know, that's just like your opinion, man.”)