As far as I'm concerned, Jeff Bridges has earned the right to do whatever he darn well pleases. And if that means making a self-titled, roots-rockin' record that might as well be called Crazy Heart 2: Bad Blake Is Back, so be it.
Delusional actors thinking they can carry a tune are an age-old scourge (anybody want to buy a barely used copy of Traci Lords' 1,000 Fires album?), but 61-year-old national treasure Bridges always makes top-shelf product, so why doubt him now?
Plus, this easygoin' record has all the signs of a safe, soothing bet. The star won an Oscar for his role as a booze-rumpled has-been in 2009's Crazy Heart — he did all his own warblin', too — but a huge part of that success was his surrounding musical dream team. T. Bone Burnett produced, singer Ryan Bingham pitched in and the late Stephen Bruton was a leading lyrical light. All of those guys are back (Bruton gets ghostly co-writing credits), plus star-powered gals Sam Phillips and Rosanne Cash add the rodeo-sweetheart touch.
If this LP has the whiff of curiosity and vanity, it also sounds authentic, as if Bridges and the gang were sitting around at 2 a.m., passing the wine and jamming to relax. Bridges had a hand in writing three of the 10 amblin' tracks, but they blend well with the others: quiet, shuffling, well worn, a representation not of the man himself, but of the shaggy dogs he's portrayed. (That said, The Big Lebowski's Dude was a Creedence man who despised the bleepin' Eagles, so he definitely would not abide by this.)
There's nothing here as catchy as Crazy Heart's life-affirming Fallin' & Flyin', but the opening track, What a Little Bit of Love Can Do (co-penned by Bruton), chugs on a chooglin' beat and a smiley chorus. Burnett, who produces the entire record, puts his trademark Southern gothic fuzz on the proceedings, making it all sound like you're standing outside a mystic roadhouse, waiting to pay your way inside.
This is actually Bridges' second album; 2000's Be Here Soon was a much cleaner-sounding affair. But Bridges, both onscreen and on record, has embraced his crags and crevices and leathered life. The older he gets, the more interesting be becomes. We should all be so lucky, right?
On Slow Boat, which he co-wrote with Burnett and Thomas Cobb (who wrote the original novel Crazy Heart), Bridges croaks it out with dying-breath gravitas, making Bob Dylan sound like Tony Bennett. It's the story of a cowboy poet unsure of his reality, a hypnotizing song that leaves you weary — but truth be told, it would make an even better movie. Get to work, Jeff.
Sean Daly can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8467. His Pop Life blog is at tampabay.com/blogs/poplife.