Sound — 9
Whenever one hears that a movie star is throwing his or her hat in that big ring that is the music world, it's hard to not feel at least a slight bit of skepticism. It certainly does seem to be the logical next step for plenty of actors at least after a few box office hits. That's not to say that some of these individuals don't have some solid skills as musicians or songwriters, but again, it often just feels like a rite of passage more than anything. With all that being said, when the news arrived that Jeff Bridges was unleashing his own studio album, you kind of want to root for the guy. Could it be the innate "cool factor" that comes with being known as "The Dude"? Or more likely his award-worthy "Crazy Heart" performance? Regardless of the reason, Bridges just seemed likely to deliver on his new eponymous album. Thankfully, he does just that. Bridges apparently already released a self-produced album back in 2000 called "Be Here Now", but following the wave of "Crazy Heart" never has there been a better time for Bridges to showcase his musical prowess if you prefer to call it prowess. At the helm of the project is Grammy Award-winning musician and producer T Bone Burnett (who also collaborated with Bridges on "Crazy Heart"), and keeping with plenty of country crooners from days gone by, Bridges' album is just as much about charisma and storytelling as anything. Bridges might not be talked about as the vocalist of the century, but he does capture your attention and that's a trait not to be brushed aside. The record kicks off with the obvious single of the bunch "What A Little Bit Of Love Can Do", which although catchy, seems to veer a bit too much to the contemporary country singles of today. I suppose that's not a bad thing if that's your genre of choice, but Bridges always seemed to channel something a little bit more down home and old school. Thankfully, that first song is pretty much the only one that leaves you wanting more. "Falling Short" is a quiet yet interesting song that is leaves you with a chilling, cinematic vibe. "Tumbling Vine" takes that approach one step further with an almost ominous feel, Josh Homme-like guitar work, and a very earthy delivery by Bridges. There are several guest vocalists sprinkled throughout, but the contrasting airy vocals of Rosanne Cash against Bridges low baritone bellow that makes such a huge impression on tracks like "Nothing Yet" and "Slow Boat". The latter is one of the best tracks on the entire CD, in fact, with one of the bluesiest electric solos and a pretty eerie vibe altogether. The final track "The Quest" brings it altogether in a track that perhaps feels most closely at home with Bridges' no frills style. "The Quest" is as old school country as the come with the concentration on storytelling, and you could easily picture Bridges hanging out on a countryside somewhere singing that track into the open air whether in a film or just doing his day-to-day usual routine.
Lyrics — 9
There is some fantastic, down-and-out-all-my-life content on the album, and that's precisely what one might expect (and hope for) from Bridges. An offering like "Falling Short" is the best kind of song to hear when you've been feeling beat up and miserable. Bridges sings, "And in my wondering do I answer why I'm alive; To make a space, bushwhack a path; Leave a sign, dodge the wrath; Of myself and leave the math to God." There's a wry, earthy quality to many of the tracks, with the one that just seems to work best with Bridges' gritty persona arriving at the end. Not surprisingly that selection and more than a few on the album have metaphors incorporating vehicles. In "The Quest" he sings, "Well, I came out swinging for the centerfield wall; And I caught a fastball, and I touched 'em all; But I burnt out my engines and needed a break; Where all that's required is the time it would take." The vast majority of tunes completely satisfy on the lyrical portion and the delivery, which is often hard to come by these days.
Overall Impression — 9
Bridges self-titled record isn't absolute perfection, but that wouldn't really fit the singer/actor's image in any case. We've watched Bridges play some highly countrified individuals in "Crazy Heart" and "True Grit", so this extension into the country music genre is a pretty natural one for him. The best moments arrive when the songwriting gets a little darker and the baritone vocals really come out, but throughout the entire record Bridges consistently reminds us that he is much more than "The Dude".