Before we get too far into this, let’s address the main question right up front: can Jeff Bridges sing? The answer is yes, but he sings like an actor.
The film Crazy Heart centers around Bridges’ character Bad Blake, a washed-up country music star now resigned to the bottle and the backwater bumpkin circuit. At this stage in his life there doesn’t seem to be much hope for a second chance, yet that’s just what appears to be heading his way. As a movie, the film is gritty, a little bit sad and proves once again why Jeff Bridges is the movie world’s definition of a secret weapon. His performance is not afraid to get dirty and grimy and he’s not about to take his character to a place not guided by a logical truth.
But this is not about his stellar performance. You want to know if it’s worth it to buy the soundtrack that finds him singing six of the sixteen tracks. The answer is yes, providing you’re aware that he sings like an actor. What I mean by that is that he never embarrasses himself with his performance, but his slightly anesthetized delivery has a cue-card quality to it, like these songs he’s singing have just been learned, not lived and felt. Doesn’t make them bad, though, and thanks to the guiding hands of the dear departed Stephen Bruton and project coordinator T Bone Burnett, even those tracks that don’t fire on all cylinders still radiate with warmth. The opening track “Hold On You” is deep and resonant, and whatever shortcomings one might find in Bridges’ performance are remedied by the treatment.
Meanwhile, co-star Colin Farrell could drop his acting career tomorrow, jump on a tour bus and be instantly accepted based on his performances here: “Gone, Gone, Gone” and the Bridges duet “Fallin’ & Flyin’.” I had to double check the liner notes just to make sure it wasn’t BS – after all, Hollywood has always gotten by with stunt singers, but it all seems to be on the up & up.
And even if the ascendant music career of Colin Farrell isn’t enough to sway you, the rest of the disc is full of Burnett’s peculiar care as a supervisor, filling it with luminaries such as Buck Owens, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Townes Van Zandt, Waylon Jennings, and Sam Phillips providing the tender, understated “Reflecting Light,” originally found on her A Boot and a Shoe album. As a primer for roots music, Crazy Heart may not provoke the instant fascination Burnett’s O Brother, Where Art Thou? disc had, but there is a completeness and sincerity about it that makes it worth your time.
Crazy Heart is available from Amazon.com.