Buoyed by last week’s news that one of its songs, “Crazy Girl,” received a gold sales award for sales of 500,000 downloads, the second major-label album from the Texas-bred Eli Young Band arrived this week.
As good as the grandly heartfelt “Crazy Girl” is, it’s but one of several exceptional Life At Best songs. Drawing compositions from Nashville tunesmiths and its own members, the Eli Young Band and producers Mike Wrucke and Frank Liddell (their credits include Miranda Lambert) have made an album that’s poised to be one of the year’s big country releases.
Life At Best opens strongly with the Tom Pettylike anthem, “Even If It Breaks Your Heart.” Besides the earnestness in Mike Eli’s vocals, the song’s wash of acoustic rhythm guitar and trebly lead guitar parallel Petty and Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbell at their best. Also in the guitar-layered Heartbreakers mode is the regret-filled “Skeletons,” co-written by band members Eli and James Young.
Eli’s interpretation of the simple but deep “I Love You” makes it another top Life At Best track. Singer-songwriter Lee Brice, a Nashville star in his own right, co-wrote “I Love You” as well as “Crazy Girl.” Eli takes co-writing credit for another album highlight, “The Falling,” an account of a young man who wonders if he can survive another broken heart.
The Eli Young Band, formed in 1998 when its members were students at the University of North Texas, hits full stride with Life At Best.
Jeff Bridges won an Oscar for his portrayal of broken-down singer-songwriter Bad Blake in the 2009 film Crazy Heart. Bridges sang and played guitar for the role. In fact, he’s been into music since childhood and friend of Crazy Heart soundtrack producer T Bone Burnett for 30 years. All of which makes doing a musical sequel to Crazy Heart a logical choice.
Bridges’ self-titled album debut is that sequel. Burnett - the producer, guitarist and songwriter who helmed such popular projects as the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack and Robert Plant and Allison Krauss duet album Raising Sand - is such an identifiable presence here that he’s essentially Bridges’ co-star.
The project opens with the Tom Petty-esque uplift of “What A Little Bit Of Love Can Do.” Featuring background vocals from Ryan Bingham, the singer-songwriter who, with Burnett, co-wrote Crazy Heart’s Oscar-winning song, “The Weary Kind,” the lively “What A Little Bit Of Love Can Do” is the rare upbeat track on Jeff Bridges.
Many of the songs move at a weary tempo. Burnett emphasizes atmosphere and lyrics are thoughtful to the point of meditative. While none of the above is necessarily a bad thing, there won’t be much dancing done to this record. It’s more walking- after-midnight music than going-out-Saturday night music.
“Falling Short,” a Bridges composition featuring supporting vocals from Sam Phillips, is an otherworldly dream of a song. The gentle country of “Everything But Love” pits love against materialism. Roseanne Cash sings backup for the moody “Nothing Yet,” composed by the late Stephen Bruton, another Crazy Heart contributor. And Bridges sings his regrets, with amusement rather than bitterness, in “Maybe I Missed The Point,” a country-roots song written by another Crazy Heart participant, John Goodwin.
Despite its rich atmosphere, Bridges’ 10-song disc would have been easier on listeners if he and Burnett had mixed in a few more upbeat selections. But then artists, even in the guise of good old boys, will be artists, and all the multitalented Bridges has to do is act naturally.
The Glee Cast
GLEE: THE 3D CONCERT MOVIE
Repeating the successful formula that made TV’s Glee a hit, the Glee: The 3D Concert Movie soundtrack CD stars the series’ gifted singers in a musical variety show of pop and rhythm-and-blues hits plus rock, pop and soul favorites from decades past and a few Broadway numbers, too.
Two of the CD’s bigger productions, “Fat Bottomed Girls” and “Somebody To Love,” are borrowed from that classic-rock act, Queen. True to the original recordings, both of the latter songs get the full ensemble treatment. In these Queen songs, however, and other selections, too, Glee performances are less gritty than the bawdy originals. The Glee cast consists of trained vocalists, not the raw, unschooled singers who tend to be rock, pop and R&B vocalists.
Glee remakes often are remarkably faithful to the original. Producers Adam Anders and Ryan Murphy, however, turn the Beatles’ normally exciting “I Want To Hold You Hand” into a slow ballad sung by Chris Colfer (Kurt). They’re more successful with a majestically accurate re-creation of the Phil Spector-produced Ike and Tina Turner landmark, “River Deep, Mountain High,” performed by Amber Riley (Mercedes) and Naya Rivera (Santana). But adding ‘80s novelty hit “Safety Dance” to an otherwise strong set list is a miscalculation. Fortunately, the Men Without Hats fluke is followed by Queen’s “Somebody To Love,” a sure way to end this show on a high note.