July 24--Next month, "House" actor Hugh Laurie will release "Didn't It Rain." The album is the singer and pianist's second collection of tastefully played and produced old blues and jazz standards with a decidedly New Orleans flavor. And this weekend Kevin Costner and his roots-rock band Modern West, who released their first album five years ago, will perform at the Coushatta Casino Resort in Kinder, La.
Sometimes it seems most actors have a guitar laying around the house, along with some flickering ember of musical aspiration ... the road not taken. Over the years, several have had the chance to make albums or play concerts, some more successfully than others. More often than not, the recordings suggest hobbyists whose fame greases through a vanity project.
Some actors use music as an unpretentious outlet, like Dennis Quaid and his bar band, the Sharks. Many are harmless folk/roots types like Kevin Bacon and Jeff Bridges, who found a record label willing to put out their harmless folk/roots music. Some do their best to hide in a band format like Johnny Depp in P and Keanu Reeves in Dogstar. Some -- John Travolta, John Schneider -- benefited from being around in the 1970s, when bad ideas were rubber-stamped. Others -- Bruce Willis, Don Johnson -- benefited from being around in the 1980s, when bad ideas also were rubber-stamped. A couple of actors had surprise hits during that decade: Both Eddie Murphy and Jack Wagner recorded No. 2 singles in the mid-'80s. But let's not judge things by pop charts: Willis' and Johnson's hits both reached No. 5.
David Hasselhoff is famously famous as a singer -- in Germany. At least two "Star Trek" cast members have made albums.
Just the past 10 years have seen a number of actors release albums: Jamie Foxx, Scarlett Johansson, Rita Wilson, Terrence Howard, Robert Downey Jr., Minnie Driver, Peter Gallagher, Tony Danza, Jada Pinkett Smith (with her band Wicked Wisdom), Juliette Lewis and Steven Seagal. Some have created fuller discographies than others. Earlier this summer, Jared Leto's band, 30 Seconds to Mars, released its fourth album. Billy Bob Thornton -- who was in a ZZ Top cover band before he ever appeared in a movie -- made four records under his own name, before making three with his British Invasion/early-rock band the Boxmasters.
Following are a few of the better recordings made by actors. It's worth noting we've discounted musical-theater types such as Matthew Morrison as well as performers such as Janet Jackson, Drake, Alanis Morrissette and Jenny Lewis, who were in TV and film early on but no longer list "actor" as vocation on their tax returns.
1. "Volume Two" (2010)
Actor: Zoe Deschanel
Band: She & Him
Sound: Having sung on screen, Deschanel teamed up with indie-rock multi-instrumentalist and guitar whiz Matt Ward for a contemporary take on '60s and '70s California pop.
Recommended if you like: '60s girl groups
Sample song: "Don't Look Back"
2. "Music for Lovers Only" (1953)
Actor: Jackie Gleason
Band: Jackie Gleason Orchestra
Sound: The actor and comedian was best-known for characters on the cusp of coming unhinged. But as a pianist, composer and conductor, he went for a slow, smooth romantic sound with strings.
Recommended if you like: Percy Faith
Sample song: "My Funny Valentine"
3. "Nighttiming" (2007)
Actor: Jason Schwartzman
Band: Coconut Records
Sound: Having drummed for Phantom Planet, Schwartzman became a one-man band with his Coconut Records, making endlessly melodic California pop.
Recommended if you like: Harry Nilsson
Sample song: "West Coast"
4. "Let Them Talk" (2011)
Actor: Hugh Laurie
Sound: The "House" actor dabbled with music on the show, but off-screen he's more than a dabbler. Laurie, an Englishman, shows his affinity for jazzy New Orleans blues.
Recommended if you like: Mose Allison
Sample song: "St. James Infirmary"
5. "Songs for Dust Mites" (2003)
Actor: Steve Burns
Sound: Burns was an aspiring musician before he landed a job (and unfortunate shirt) appearing on "Blues Clues." He got back to music with an assist from Flaming Lips multi-instrumentalist Steven Drozd and producer Dave Fridmann, who helped him make a hooky sort of experimental alt-rock. Drozd has worked on some worthwhile recordings by actor Adam Goldberg, who has released music under the names LANDy and the Goldberg Sisters.
Recommended if you like: Flaming Lips
Sample song: "Troposphere"
6. "Goodbye to All That" (1996)
Actor: Dermot Mulroney
Band: The Low and Sweet Orchestra
Sound: Folk music with a rocking pulse. Mulroney played cello and viola in the band that also included Thelonious Monster's Mike Martt, the Pogues' James Fearnley and the Circle Jerks' Zander Schloss.
Recommended if you like: the BoDeans
Sample song: "Sometimes the Truth Is All You Get"
7. "Dead Man's Bones" (2009)
Actor: Ryan Gosling
Band: Dead Man's Bones
Sound: Gosling and fellow singer-songwriter bandmate Zach Shields made an interesting, moody and experimental-rock recording that has no trace of vanity project in its varied sounds.
Recommended if you like: Scott Walker
Sample song: "Lose Your Soul"
8. "A Tramp Shining" (1968)
Actor: Richard Harris
Sound: Harris made the fine decision to leave the songwriting to the songwriter, singing nine songs penned by the great Jimmy Webb. His voice and Webb's words were immersed in slow, string-saturated balladry.
Recommended if you like: Robert Goulet
Sample song: "Didn't We"
9. "The Divine Comedy" (1994)
Actor: Milla Jovovich
Sound: Model/actress Jovovich's album wasn't greeted warmly, which is too bad because the music is unpretentious and charming folk-tinged pop, and Jovovich's voice is expressive and interesting.
Recommended if you like: Kate Bush
Sample song: "Gentlemen Who Fell"
10. "That Man, Robert Mitchum, Sings" (1967)
Actor: Robert Mitchum
Sound: In 1957, Mitchum, a pothead, did a very potheady thing: He made a calypso album. It's really only good for tormenting people who love calypso. But his deep, oaky voice was better suited for a subsequent set of songs that were far removed from the Caribbean.
Recommended if you like: Johnny Horton
Sample song: "Ballad of Thunder Road"
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