Album reviews: The War On Drugs, "Slave Ambient" and Jeff Bridges - Reverb

Album reviews: The War On Drugs, Jeff Bridges

The War on Drugs, “Slave Ambient” (Secretly Canadian)

You can’t hold it against the War on Drugs for releasing a second record that doesn’t compare to its debut.

The Philadelphia group’s debut, 2008’s “Wagonwheel Blues,” was an anomaly, a stunning creation, a meeting of the minds. And since some of those minds have left the band — including Kurt Vile, who is making noise on his own — the band’s second effort is something of a U-turn from the Dylan-aping alt-folk that first had us swooning.

But while “Slave Ambient” might not have a freewheeling “Arms Like Boulders,” it does have the more aggro (though equally melancholic) “Your Love is Calling My Name.” Frontman Adam Granduciel seems more his own man in this recording, even if it lacks certain qualities fans might wish were there.

He gets weird with “It’s Your Destiny,” and he relives a bit of the past with “Brothers.” Front to end, “Slave Ambient” is a captivating listen — a statement, perhaps, that he’s not about to live in the past. And while fans will inevitably miss those simpler times, some will surely come around to this challenging record’s diverse listenability.

Click here to listen to our Mile Marker with The War On Drugs.

'Look, just 'cause we're beraved, that doesn't make us saps!' Photo courtesy of Merrick Morton/Gramercy Pictures.

'Look, just 'cause we're beraved, that doesn't make us saps!' Photo courtesy of Merrick Morton/Gramercy Pictures.

Jeff Bridges, “Jeff Bridges” (EMI)

It’s almost too obvious. Jeff Bridges, best known as an actor, releases a country-leaning record after his Oscar-winning turn in the country music flick “Crazy Heart.”

The powers behind the action even set Bridges up with the right producer, T Bone Burnett, the man behind the “Crazy Heart” soundtrack, along with countless other folk/country/blues credits.

Is Bridges’ musical turn any good? It’s only fine.

It’s not that Bridges is bad. Hard-core fans might remember his decent musical debut, 2000’s “Be Here Soon.” Bridges is a fine singer, with his oft-imitated, gravelly vocals as recognizable as they are in his films.

Where this eponymous sophomore record goes astray is the point where Bridges meets Burnett. Bridges is the worn-in character we’ve learned to love in multiple different, if similar, incarnations. And this polished record is not only super-clean, but it’s also meditative and plodding, hardly allowing Bridges to sound comfortable.

“Jeff Bridges” is a surprisingly serious record, with its many ballads, its understated harmonies (hear Rosanne Cash in there?) and its repeated use of weepy guitars. Sure, there are some fun numbers. CD-starter “What a Little Bit of Love Can Do” is an easy match for pop-country radio. But even while Bridges is shooting the breeze on a swinging, laid-back number like that, he doesn’t sound like he’s enjoying himself.

On the flip side, Bridges sounds more at home on the Gothic dirge “Slow Boat” — penned by Burnett and him — but it’s also the slowest, most dour and methodical song on the record, not exactly easy listening. But as the most cohesive track on the record, it doesn’t help that the song sounds like a B-side from the “Raising Sand” sessions, which Burnett helmed for Alison Krauss and Robert Plant.

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Ricardo Baca is the founder and executive editor of Reverb, the co-founder of The UMS and an award-winning critic and journalist at The Denver Post.

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