Eleven years might seem like an inordinately long gap between releases, but given the fact that Jeff Bridges has been rather preoccupied making some of the greatest movies in recent memory in that time ("The Contender," "Seabiscuit," "The Amateurs," "Iron Man," his Oscar-winning role as Bad Blake in "Crazy Heart" and his Oscar-nominated turn as Rooster Cogburn in the Coen brothers retooling of "True Grit" among them) should earn him a pass concerning his musical pursuits.
Bridges was more interested in music as a teenager, learning guitar and organizing a mid-week jam session that he maintained for a decade and a half. He hesitantly went into the family acting business with father Lloyd Bridges and older brother Beau; perhaps that reticence and his effortless style are the qualities that inspired the New Yorker to cite him as "the best actor alive."
Bridges probably won't get those kind of accolades for his musical output, at least partly because of the bias against actors with guitars. His 2000 debut, "Be Here Soon," co-produced by Michael McDonald, was a more pop-based affair, but his eponymous sophomore album is steered by his work in "Crazy Heart" and the atmospheric production of Americana icon T Bone Burnett. The album jumps to life with a spirited cover of Stephen Bruton's shambling What a Little Bit of Love Can Do, and then settles into a languid groove that rarely rises above a shuffle, from the ephemeral delicacy subtlety of Falling Short and the Tom Waits textures of Tumbling Vine (both penned by Bridges), to the slow regret of Bruton's Nothing Yet, the bluesy twang of Greg Brown's Blue Car and the reverbed sway of John Goodwin's Maybe I Missed the Point.
An argument could be made that Bridges could have injected a shade more vigor into his song choices and picked up the pace on "Jeff Bridges," but there's an equal case to be made for the album's quiet elegance, ruminative waltz-like arrangements and weary sweetness with the subtle kick of dark buckwheat honey.