Jeff Bridges chases different muse with new album
Thursday, August 18, 2011
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — When you get right down to it, Jeff Bridges’ new self-titled album got its start more than 30 years ago on the set of “Heaven’s Gate.”
The now legendary six-month shoot threw the actor, whose hobby was guitar-slinging, together with a bunch of musicians, including Kris Kristofferson and one of Kristofferson’s players — a young T Bone Burnett.
“That was it, that was when we became friends,” Bridges said of Burnett. “We stayed friends over the years. We haven’t spent that much time together. We’re both busy guys. But you know how it is with people that you click with. You just pick up where you left off.”
And when the two got back together on the 2009 film “Crazy Heart,” the click was audible. The collaboration led to Academy Awards for each and some of the best work of their respective careers.
“Jeffrey’s exactly the same as he was then, only more so,” Burnett said. “His spirit has not wavered in all these years. He’s remained very true to whichever muse he’s following. Maybe all of them. Maybe he follows all the muses. Maybe that’s one of the keys to Jeffrey.”
The time they spent together working on the music on that film reignited something in Bridges that had been pushed aside by his acting successes. He took up music at a young age, and toyed with focusing on it as a career before acting finally took over. Still, there had been occasional jam sessions over the decades, and Bridges put out an independent album, “Be Here Soon” in 2000 with Michael McDonald on their own label, Ramp Records.
“Flowers bloom at different times,” Bridges said in a phone interview last month from Scottsdale, Ariz., where he had a gig that evening. “Music has been a part of my life going back to my early teens, and it just comes out, it just pops out in different ways, whether it’s playing jazz piano in ‘Baker Boys’ or being a country artist in ‘Crazy Heart.’ It’s in me and it’s just something that comes out every once in a while.”
There was something special, though, about his time with the “Crazy Heart” crew, which included the late Stephen Bruton and the members of Burnett’s cadre of top-notch players that led him to renew the focus on his music career. And who better, he thought, to help with a new album than “my old buddy, Bone”?
The two first met on Michael Cimino’s shoot for “Heaven’s Gate,” a notorious film that deserves its reputation for excess, but not its tag as a critical flop, both Bridges and Burnett agree.
It was 1979 and the shoot took place at Glacier National Park in Montana. Bridges played a leader in a settlement besieged by cattle barrons and Burnett was a member of a band with a memorable scene at the local dance hall.
“That experience was an amazing time,” Burnett said. “We went up for three weeks to do a little bit of music and ended up being there for six months stuck in a hotel. And there was nothing to do. ... It was tough at the time. It was a movie about the Johnson County war and it felt like a war, and a lot of people got hurt. It was a very tough shoot and Cimino was on another planet at the time.”
It was both stunningly boring and a raucous good time, full of jam sessions, strange adventures and curiously little actual shooting. Stars of the day like Kristofferson mixed with characters like Bridges, Mickey Rourke and John Hurt.
“We ended up renting a prop plane just to get out of there,” Burnett said. “But in the meantime it was one of the most adventurous times of my life.”
When he got back together with Bridges, it felt like those old times again. For the new album, Burnett brought in his old standbys, players like guitarist Marc Ribot, and guests like Rosanne Cash, Sam Phillips and Ryan Bingham, who co-wrote the Oscar-winning “The Weary Kind (Theme from ‘Crazy Heart’)” with Burnett.
Bridges and Burnett sorted through more than 60 songs and recorded 17 over 12 days. Some of the 10 tracks that made the album were leftovers from “Crazy Heart.” Bridges wrote two of the songs on the album and co-wrote a third with Burnett and “Crazy Heart” author Thomas Cobb.
Burnett, one of today’s most influential producers with a distinctive sound, says he was careful to keep the focus on how Bridges wanted the music. And while Bridges says recording music is a lot playing a part, a picture of the actor emerges through the songs he chose.
It’s an introspective album, subtly psychedelic with shades of rock and country. It is not an album of acid-tinged lounge music by The Dude, Bridges’ iconic character from “The Big Lebowski” — though Bridges says, “I think the Dude would dig this album.” And it’s not a slab of outlaw country a la his “Crazy Heart” alter ego Bad Blake.
This is pure Bridges.
“It is a very personal album,” Burnett said. “It’s not a public Jeff. It’s a very private Jeff in these tracks.”
This is most apparent in the songs Bridges penned. At the heart of each is a quest or a question. In “Falling Short” he sings, “Am I falling short or do I fly/While I miss the mark do I hit the sky.” On “Tumbling Vine” he notes “I’m buddhistly bent.” And on “Slow Boat” he notes, “The river is wide/deeper than deep/on one side they’re cryin’/On the other they’re asleep.”
It’s not all heavy. The album kicks off with wide-open rocker, “What a Little Bit of Love Can Do,” and many of the songs carry psychedelic hallmarks that add a vaguely hazy feel to the festivities.
“Something’s a little pleasantly off, I hope,” Bridges said. “I like to think of it that way. It feels kind of fresh and like something you haven’t heard, and also something familiar at the same time.”
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