The mystery surrounding most actors-turned-musicians' albums -- can they really sing? -- has already been dissipated for Jeff Bridges. After all, the 61-year-old thespian bagged an Oscar for his portrayal of washed-up country singer "Bad" Blake in 2009's Crazy Heart, a character who's not so good at the interpersonal relationships but pretty solid at the microphone.
The Dude's no slouch as a songwriter either, providing you don't mind a little New Age navel-gazing mixed in with your affable folk-rock ("Falling short I've hit the spot/Of the place where I was shot/From the womb of my mother," he croons on Falling Short). He contributes three originals to this 10-track affair, produced by longtime friend T Bone Burnett.
As these sorts of projects go, the sleepy, slightly funereal Jeff Bridges is surprisingly compelling, thanks in part to Burnett's (by now) tried-and-true method of calling up his A-Team (drummer Jay Bellerose, bassist Dennis Crouch, pedal-steel virtuoso Russ Pahl and guitarist Marc Ribot, among others) and draping the songs in contemplative shades of folk, country and rock. It's a comfortably familiar formula that has paid dividends for artists as diverse as Elvis Costello and Ryan Bingham; call it the Grammy-winning Burnett Method.
Guest vocalists like Bingham, Sam Phillips and Rosanne Cash drift by in the background of these 10 tracks, providing haunting textures. It's not hard to picture "Bad" Blake ably covering any track here (save maybe the wryly comic, vaguely bluesy Blue Car).
Another link to Crazy Heart is the inclusion of a couple Stephen Bruton compositions, which are the undeniable showstoppers. Both Bridges and Burnett were dear friends of the late singer-songwriter, having enjoyed one last collaboration with the Fort Worth native on the award-winning Crazy Heart soundtrack. Their treatment of his work -- lead single What a Little Bit of Love Can Do and Nothing Yet -- is a deeply poignant and fitting farewell to a consummate artist.
Whether Bridges puts acting on hold and pursues music more seriously (he has hinted it is a possibility in pre-release interviews), this slow-burn album stands as a worthwhile detour into another discipline that is handled with near-equal skill.