It's an old and usually horrendous game: a successful actor or actress takes a musical turn, believing that talent in one medium will automatically translate to talent in another. William Shatner and Scarlett Johansson, anyone?
So the Dude has made an album. A self-titled one on Blue Note Records, due out in the middle of August. Go figure. He's surrounded himself with top-notch talent -- T Bone Burnett in the producer's chair, the Joe Henry house band, Sam Phillips and Roseanne Cash on backing vocals. Predictably, the sonic pieces sound great. Less predictably, so does Jeff Bridges. Those of you who saw him in Crazy Heart probably aren't completely surprised by this. Bridges can do the grizzled, world-weary Country Dude about as well as anybody, even approaching hallowed Johnny Cash territory. What is more surprising to me is how well he does buoyant, swaggering country rock. Opener "What a Little Bit of Love Can Do" sounds like a bona fide hit, its jangly Buddy Holly riff scuffed up by Bridges' raspy vocals. But Bridges has that grey hair for a reason, and on the late Stephen Bruton's "Nothing Yet" he pulls off a harrowing tour-de-force, a deeply rueful stocktaking that barely rises above a whisper. It's a marvellous lesson in both soul and restraint, the verses made all the more powerful because you have to strain to hear them. It sounds like a deathbed confession.
In the end, it's a moot question as to whether Bridges has the musical goods. He sings well enough to be totally believable. It's a talent he's transferred over from his movie roles, and the Dude abides just fine in the recording studio. I'll have a more detailed review out in Christianity Today, but this one is a delightful, moving surprise.