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CULTURE: Minnie in the driving seat; Mike Davies rummages through Minnie Driver's pocket.

Byline: Mike Davies

A ctors who fancy themselves as singers are a frequent recipe for disaster and embarrassment. I mean, just how many people count Bruce Willis's The Return of Bruno, Steven Seagal's Songs From The Crystal Cave, or anything by David Hasselhoff and John Travolta among the most treasured items in their record collections? And let's not even mention Juliette Lewis's trashy rock chick efforts or Keanu Reeves and Dogstar.

Of course, just as some singers turn out to make excellent actors, so there are a fair few thespians whose recorded warblings are actually pretty damn good. Richard Harris, for starters. Hilary Duff's got a decent set of pipes as it happens, J-Lo's not done too badly.

And, for all the sniping, Russell Crowe's 30 Odd Foot of Grunts are a solidly accomplished rootsy rock'n'boogie outfit. And anyone who's ever heard Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio singing Dimming Of The Day on the soundtrack to Limbo (criminally never released in the UK) will realise what a loss it is that she's never actually made an album of her own.

Now, with the release of debut album Everything I've Got In My Pocket and the title track Top 40 single, you can add Minnie Driver's name to the gold standard list.

Actually, this isn't so much as a fork in the career road as finally rejoining the main highway. Prior to her breakthrough film debut in 1995's Circle of Friends, Driver was already making waves as a singer. Indeed, having initially been part of what she calls a pre-Massive Attack style outfit - waggishly but very unofficially dubbed Puff, Rocks and Brown - who'd recorded some never released tracks ('they were rubbish' she says cheerfully) for Island before being dropped, the budding jazz vocalist and guitarist had just been signed to a solo deal by legendary producer Denny Cordell when Hollywood called and, an acting graduate who'd already chalked up various TV appearances roles (Lovejoy, Mr Wroe's Virgins and Royal Celebration), she had to make some tough choices. Knowing music would always be part of her life and, candidly admitting that she was stone broke and the money sounded good, she plunged into the world of movies. The rest is history.

Circle of Friends made her hot property in America where critically acclaimed roles in Sleepers and Grosse Point Blank followed. Then came Good Will Hunting and a supporting actress Oscar nomination. The eagle-eyed will have noted that she also provided a song, Handle On My Heart, for the film's soundtrack, but other than a cameo in Bond movie Goldeneye as a Russian singer performing Stand By Your Man, her music profile remained firmly limited to playing for friends and family.

Until, tired after making film after film she wasn't that fond of just to pay the mortgage and having experienced a series of emotional bodyblows in her personal life, while it took a degree of courage in a world where competition for roles is fierce, Driver decided that it was more important to stop than to continue and virtually put acting on hold for a year and make a record. Not that she'd actually got any sort of clearly defined game plan.

'I'd written some songs but I had no intention of making an album,' she says. But I played five or six to Doc (Marc Dauer, her friend, guitarist and producer) and he said 'we should make a record'. He said we could either put it out on his website or find a distributor, it was never meant to be a big record label deal.'

The album title track initially surfaced on the tongue in cheek set titled Greatest Hits II, a compilation from Trampoline, a small US indie label set up by Dauer and rising star singer-songwriter Pete Yorn who, it turns out is also a long standing friend of Driver's from way back in the days when she and a handful of fans would turn out to see him play LA's dive bars. His brother was also once Driver's manager. The idea was to get the word out and it certainly seems to have worked. Driver found herself signed in America to well respected folk-country label Rounder and to Liberty (part of the EMI umbrella) for the UK. Both carry a lot of weight with their dedicated audiences and both are labels for whom the music comes first.

'Neither have any interest in me being an actress,' says Driver.

The album's a lovely affair with her warm, rootsy vocals and songs about getting into, out of and over relationships, self-questioning and self-healing. She laughingly refers to them as 'a very cheap form of therapy' but there's no denying the emotional potency of things like the wistful So Well where she sings of not picking up the phone, putting away the photos and passing the house without looking, while the gently drifting ebb and flow of Deeper Water reminds that you have to have the courage to get back into the tide after you've been battered by the waves.

Two standouts are forthcoming single Invisible Girl ( 'its pretty much about me and the girls I grew up with, that thing about being 19 and staying out late') which provides the missing link between Alanis and Norah Jones, and a stunning slow dance piano ballad recasting of Springsteen's Hungry Heart. With the album receiving both good reviews and commercial success and her screen profile getting a major renewed boost when she appears (but doesn't sing) in Phantom of the Opera this December, could Driver perhaps be facing another career choice decision?

'Well if it takes three months to make a movie and three months to write and record a record, that's pretty good, because I've still got half a year to do other stuff,' she laughs, clearly with no thoughts of giving up either.

Right now though, the cameras are on hold and she's getting ready to pay her rock

roll dues by playing live. Not some one-off showcase gig in a plush London venue packed with industry types, but actually out on the road and dealing directly with real paying punters as the opening act for Tim and Neil Finn. It is, she says, about keeping it real.

That'll be cheap hotels, poky dressing rooms, audiences drifting in and out of the bar, then. Of course, being the Hollywood star used to on set trailers and personal assistants, surely she'll have the comforting luxury of a rider to pamper her whims. She roars with laughter. 'Absolutely not, no, there's no rider for the driver!'

Minnie Driver plays Wolverhampton Civic Hall, Oct 25. Everything In My Pocket is out now

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Minnie Driver has no plans of giving up movies or music
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Oct 25, 2004
Words:1121
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