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Jeff Bridges (2011)

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Jeff Bridges

Part of the reason Jeff Bridges was so convincing in his Oscar-winning role as Bad Blake in 2009’s Crazy Heart is that he’s so comfortable in his own skin he lends a casual authority to whatever he does. He stood behind the microphone as if he belonged, a stance no doubt derived from his own musical background: about a decade earlier he released his own album, the thoroughly likeable Be Here Soon, a record that lightly traded on his hippie Lebowski persona. His music bona fides came in handy for Crazy Heart, and that film in turn set the stage for Bridges’ second album, an eponymous 2011 set produced by T-Bone Burnett, the producer and music supervisor for Crazy Heart. Burnett picks up where the movie left off, cleans up Bridges’ Bad Blake act, giving him some finely tailored threads and a tastefully retro production, encouraging him to shuffle along with the urgency of a snail. Amiable dude that he is, Bridges settles into this groove, sliding deep within the smeary analog murk that’s been Burnett’s specialty since Robert Plant and Alison Krauss' Raising Sand. A half-decade of repetition has stripped this muted impressionism of its mystique but, worse still, it’s utterly unsuited for Bridges' easy-rolling touch. As a singer and songwriter, Bridges speaks conversationally, never underlining his points, never treating the intimate as epic, traits that are singularly unsuited for Burnett’s drowsy Americana mythology. The pair of Stephen Bruton songs here -- the sprightly first single “What a Little Bit of Love Can Do” and elegiac “Nothing Yet” -- manage to break through the classy constraints of the production, but Bridges' originals, along with the selections by John Goodwin and Greg Brown, would be better suited to a simpler, livelier recording, one that gives Bridges a little bit of grit and capitalizes on his chief charm of how he never seems like he’s trying at all, he’s just existing. The problem with Jeff Bridges is, it sounds like he’s trying hard to be cool, and that’s all down to T-Bone Burnett, who dampens everything natural about this music with the artificially authentic. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine