The Dude Rides Again, Bad Blake Style
Man, I love Jeff Bridges. For one of the reasons why, take a look at “The Dude” scene from The Big Lebowski:
It’s not just The Big Lebowski. He was great in True Grit, Crazy Heart, The Fabulous Baker Boys, etc. etc. The Big Lebowski is my favorite, though. I could watch it once a week. In fact, if I only had two dvd’s one would be The Big Lebowski and the other would be Lonesome Dove and the first two Godfather movies. That’s four? Sorry, but Robert Duvall is in Lonesome Dove and The Godfather films, so I sorta counted them as one. Robert Duvall is in Crazy Heart, too, now that I think about it. And he sings a bit. Coincidence? I think not.
Anyway, the point is that I’m coming from a good place as I write about the new Jeff Bridges album. In my mind’s eye, I’m wearing a replica of The Dude’s sweater as I type this, even though it’s August. I can see myself in that sweater in a long shot from outside my window, typing away, then we cut to a tight shot from just past the computer screen. I’ve got a look of reverence on my face as I type (in the tight shot, that is – you can’t really see my face in the long shot, just a blurry reflection on the computer screen, but take my word, I’m reverent).
I tried to do my homework in advance of this album release. I put some candles around the bathtub, filled it up and got in to soak with the intention of listening to the Crazy Heart soundtrack.
I hadn’t heard the soundtrack much since around the time the film was in theaters. My recollection was that it was pretty good, with the possible exception of the Colin Farrell song. I locked the door to the house and checked to make sure the rug was in place before getting into the bathtub, but I still kept worrying about Nihilists and marmots on leashes. My vulnerability in the tub while under threat of Nihilist/marmot attack distracted me, so I wasn’t really able to listen. You know how it is. As Dude-like as sitting in the tub might be, I’m more comfortable in the virtual sweater situation. The sweater seems to afford more protection from the marmots of my imagination.
So, after drying off and donning a robe, er . . . sweater, I resumed the listening. I have to admit that while the Bridges tunes in Crazy Heart worked well for the movie, they really don’t hold up that well compared to the cuts by Ryan Bingham, Buck Owens, George Jones or even Robert Duvall’s acapella rendition of Live Forever. But who would hold up well against all those guys? Besides, Bridges is in character in the movie, playing Bad Blake, so up to now we really didn’t know how Jeff Bridges the singer would sound in a T-Bone Burnett produced album with all the trimmings. And I suppose we should move on to the now, since the record is here.
Here’s a video where Bridges talks about Crazy Heart and gives us some insight into his music background in his introduction for What A Little Bit Of Love Can Do, a Stephen Bruton song that is on the new album:
He does a pretty nice job on this song, and he does a pretty good job on the rest of the album, too. Often, I find myself writing about albums that don’t get a lot of press. I realize that this album is different. Tuesday morning I was watching Headline News (now they call it HLN) and Robin Meade had a piece about the Jeff Bridges record with clips from the official video for this song. Interesting, but then she switched from that piece to her favorite song from her new album (everybody’s a damn singer, I suppose) and from there to her song contest, and this video of four sisters singing a bad song badly on a couch. I think one was actually behind the couch, but I’m not sure. They cut from one thing to another really fast on Headline News. HLN. Whatever. Anyway, the point is that you don’t really need my take on this album because (besides just buying it and listening to it) there are tons of takes out there for the taking.
So here’s what other reviewers are saying. Pop & Hiss, the LA Times music blog has this positive take. Jim Farber of the NY Daily News disses the idea of actors as singers and the exploitation of brand to sell records then concludes that the album is good in his review. ABC News/AP put out this review, which concludes that this is an album Bad Blake might have made and applauds the songwriting (two of the songs are self-penned, by the way). Melinda Newman’s review on HitFix is also positive, pointing out that Bridges has been making music a long time and highlighting the musical talent joining Bridges on this project. Ms. Newman’s review also has the official video of Little Bit Of Love in it, which includes backup singing by Ryan Bingham and a cameo by Gregg Allman. Ms. Newman calls the cameo “trippy,” and it is. Chris Willman’s review via Reuters is positive, though maybe a little less glowing, pointing out that Mr. Bridges takes fewer chances with his vocals and his songwriting on this record, but acknowledging that it works. Finally, here’s a preliminary take on the album from this site, by Easy Ed. And there are more out there, just Google and see.
So what do I think? Does it really matter? It’s hard not to like the project. It sounds good, has all the elements to be a winner. I’m happy for Jeff Bridges. Like The Stranger, I don’t know why, but I take comfort in this. It’s good knowing he’s out there singing for all us sinners. I hope he makes the finals. Or a Grammy. On the serious side, I’m even happier for the paychecks going to all the musicians associated with the record. Jeff Bridges has no problem getting a record deal if he wants one, while there are dozens of talented artists who deserve a record deal but can’t get it. What record company wouldn’t want the dollars The Dude can generate, and hell, he sounds a lot better than William Shatner, who gets record deals, too. (I really liked Shatner as Captain Kirk and Denny Crane – T.J. Hooker, not so much.) So I’m thinking that while Bridges is sucking some air out of the room from other artists, he’s probably not sucking the air that up and coming artists would be breathing anyway – he’s probably sucking the William Shatner/Tim Robbins air instead (I haven’t heard the Robbins CD and probably won’t unless the Nihilists marmotize me into it).
Another way of looking at the Jeff Bridges album is this: It has the potential to push the Americana sound to the masses. So maybe it will be a gateway drug, leading some folks to Ryan Bingham or Stephen Bruton, and maybe to the Robison boys or even James McMurtry.
Is the Jeff Bridges album going to be playing in my car a lot? Probably not, I must move on – Robert Earl and The Bottle Rockets have new ones, and I’ve been on a Rodney Crowell jag (listening to The Outsider and Sex & Gasoline), and I can’t get enough of Jason Isbell lately. Finally got around to spending some time with Steve Earle’s album after seeing him this summer and it is really good. So, yes, The Dude’s album’s okay, but no, I don’t love it. Maybe I’ll put it on and listen to it while I watch The Big Lebowski with the sound off. I know all the lines anyway.
Mando Lines is on Twitter @mando_lines.