July 27 @ 8:00 pm
“This album is a natural extension of the love of music I’ve had all my life,” says Jeff Bridges. And, in fact, “natural” is as good a word as any to describe the feeling of Bridges’ self-titled major label debut. Featuring a roster of magnificent songwriters and musicians, and produced by Bridges’ friend of three decades, Grammy-award winner T Bone Burnett, the ten-song disc is soulful and heartfelt. It may mark a switch from the six-time Oscar nominee’s usual day job, but the performances on Jeff Bridges consistently feel both comfortable and true.
The album is a logical follow-up to Bridges’ Academy Award-winning portrayal of grizzled former country music legend Bad Blake in the 2009 film Crazy Heart. “I actually passed on the movie at first because it had no music in it,” says Bridges, “but when I found out that T Bone was interested, I was like, ‘Let’s do this thing.’
Bridges’ involvement in music goes back a lot longer, and far deeper, than just this one film. “I’ve been into music ever since I was a kid,” he says. “My mother forced me to take piano lessons, maybe when I was around 8—I got as far as ‘Fur Elise’ and I bailed, and I’ve regretted it ever since.” But then he discovered his brother Beau’s Danelectro guitar, and starting in high school, joined up with his grade-school buddy Goodwin and a group of other friends for a Wednesday night jam session—which they continued, every week, for the next fifteen years.
As he made more films, and became one of the most prominent and respected actors of his time, Bridges found that music was often a key element in his projects. “Different assignments would come up and turn me on to different types of music,” he says. “The Fabulous Baker Boys was all about getting steeped in jazz, learning about this Bill Evans style of piano playing.
“On movie sets, so many actors also play music. A great example of that was Heaven’s Gate—Kris Kristofferson brought along many of his musician friends, like Ronnie Hawkins, Stephen Bruton and T Bone, and our down time was all spent making music. That movie was really the birth of the music that came out in Crazy Heart.”
That 1980 film marked the beginning of a long-time relationship between Bridges and Burnett. Burnett selected the songs for the soundtrack to the incomparable 1998 film The Big Lebowski. After they reunited for Crazy Heart, Bridges approached Burnett about making a record together. “Jeff is an honest-to-God artist,” says Burnett. “And he’s also a most readily-directed person—if you say something, he absorbs it and takes it in.”
From an initial group of fifty songs, they narrowed down their choices and wound up cutting sixteen songs in just over a week. Burnett assembled his usual team of ace musicians—including drummer Jay Bellerose, bassist Dennis Crouch, keyboardist Keefus Ciancia, Russ Paul on pedal steel, and guitarist Jackson Smith, along with the astonishing Marc Ribot adding guitar on some tracks—plus guest vocalists Rosanne Cash, Sam Phillips, and Benji Hughes.
Perhaps the most notable element of Jeff Bridges, though, is the extraordinary songwriting. Writers like Greg Brown and the late Stephen Bruton may not be household names, but they are true musicians’ musicians. Their contributions, next to four songs that Bridges wrote or co-wrote, add up to a unified voice for the album—simple but philosophical, concise but profound.
Bridges is especially pleased by the inclusion of several compositions by John Goodwin, his friend since fourth grade. “It was really joyful to have my dear friend there when we were recording,” he says, “and to realize some of these songs of his—like ‘Everything But Love’ or ‘The Quest’—that I’ve been playing for years.”
After finishing work on this album, Jeff Bridges concludes that there are strong connections between his two passions of acting and music-making. “There are more similarities than differences,” he says. “They’re both very collaborative, you’re working with different artists, but there are also solo aspects in the writing and the practicing. You prepare, and then you let go and give it up.”