When an actor sets his sights on fronting a band, it can often be a cringe-worthy affair. Ego ends up trumping talent and the music can leave much to be desired. This isn’t the case with Jeff Bridges, who previewed several strong tunes from his forthcoming album for a star-studded Los Angeles audience.Bridges’ multi-decade career has made him one of the world’s most recognizable stars, but as it turns out, he’s been singing and writing songs since he was a teenager, as legendary producer Quincy Jones attested when he introduced Bridges at the Troubadour on Tuesday night. Telling the audience, “I saw him coming,” Jones said he decided to use Bridges’ original song “Lost in Space” in the film “John and Mary” when Bridges was just 17. Now 61, the actor best known as “The Dude” seemed completely at ease holding a guitar and commanding the audience with his laid-back, gravelly baritone and natural charisma. “This is surreal, man, being at the Troubadour,” Bridges said as he took the stage. He started the show with a nod to his brother, actor Beau, who looked on from the balcony, along with his wife and daughter, and several long-time friends including Jackson Brown. With his long silver hair and scruffy beard, Bridges resembled Bad Blake, the country troubadour he made famous in “Crazy Heart.” He fittingly kicked off with two songs from the film’s soundtrack — “Hold on You” and “I Don’t Know” — and then segued into “Everything but Love,” a romantic number from his solo debut, which is set to be released Aug. 16 via Blue Note Records. Many of the tunes hewed to a similar vein, with country twang augmented by pedal steel guitar, accordion and stand-up bass. A few of the numbers were slow and sexy, such as “Blue Car,” with jangly piano and a pounding back beat. This was a standout along with the catchy “Maybe I Missed the Point,” a classic country storytelling tune. “There’s a guy I blame for all this standing in the corner,” Bridges said pointing to T Bone Burnett, who produced and co-wrote the album, and with whom he collaborated on the “Crazy Heart” soundtrack. It’s obvious that this collaboration spawned Bridges’ current musical project, and that he is wholeheartedly embracing his new role as bandleader. “I did this acting thing for a while and now I’m morphing into a musician,” he said before saying good night. “You just never know what’s gonna happen.”
Troubadour; 350 capacity
Presented by Bowers & Wilkins and Blue Note Records. Reviewed June 28, 2011.