Some great songs about bad times

By James Reed
Globe Staff / January 8, 2010

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Early on in “Crazy Heart,’’ while lounging in bed just before the inevitable happens, Maggie Gyllenhaal’s character turns to Jeff Bridges’s Bad Blake, the down-and-out country singer she’s supposed to be interviewing for a story. Cast in shadows, she asks him an asinine question that ends up capturing the essence of the film’s soundtrack.

“So where’d all those songs come from?’’ she wants to know.

“Life, unfortunately,’’ he replies.

Sticking to that philosophy, the soundtrack is full of odes to hard knocks and hardened hearts. Tear-in-your-beer classics blow by like Texas tumbleweeds at dusk, from folk (Townes Van Zandt) to classic country (the Louvin Brothers, Buck Owens) to the blues (Lightnin’ Hopkins).

At the album’s core, however, are the original songs co-produced by T Bone Burnett and the late Stephen Bruton and performed by the film’s stars (Bridges, Colin Farrell, and Robert Duvall). Even outside the context of the movie, the songs are compelling portraits of dashed dreams. As arena-ready superstar Tommy Sweet, Farrell is especially convincing on “Gone, Gone, Gone,’’ a driving country rocker you could easily imagine in Brad Paisley’s repertoire.

Bridges, though, is the real revelation here, playing guitar and singing like he still hasn’t shed the decades of baggage he’s hauled from one two-bit bar to the next. The songs trace his journey from the depths (the rowdy anthem “Somebody Else’’) to redemption (the haunting “Brand New Angel’’). Not since Sissy Spacek’s turn as Loretta Lynn in “Coal Miner’s Daughter’’ has an actor been so invested in the character that it shines through in the music.

As good as Bridges’s performance is, Ryan Bingham steals the soundtrack with “The Weary Kind (Theme From Crazy Heart),’’ his fingerpicked country ballad sung with heartbreaking grit and a well of pent-up emotion.

With just one chorus, Bingham, a Texas singer-songwriter who turns up briefly as one of Bad’s backup musicians, conveys the film’s heart and soul: “This ain’t no place for the weary kind/ This ain’t no place to lose your mind/ This ain’t no place to fall behind/ Pick up your crazy heart and give it one more try.’’ (Out Jan. 19)