Like many artists that had a big hit single early in their career, Bruce Hornsby will always be associated — pigeonholed, you could say — by “that song.” In this case, “The Way It Is,” his big hit from 1986. Yikes, has it really been 25 years since that song smothered the airwaves with that insanely addictive piano hook of Hornsby’s?
Indeed it has. But since that time Hornsby has kept quite busy, releasing solo albums and playing with his band The Range, touring with the Grateful Dead, and appearing on albums by dozens of other recording artists. I recently purchased Intersections,a 4-CD boxed set of Hornsby’s music that covers the broad range of material he recorded from 1985-2005. But it’s not just a “Greatest Hits” retrospective; many of the tracks are live recordings, tunes from movie soundtracks, or previously unreleased ones. If there was any doubt about Hornsby’s astonishing ability to reach across multiple musical genres, such thinking will be put to rest with this impressive collection. As the liner notes say:
“The multi-faceted Bruce Hornsby is a true American original. Hornsby is equally comfortable working with jazz immortals Ornette Coleman and Branford Marsalis as he is playing piano for the Grateful Dead or writing with Chaka Khan and Don Henley. With a staggering array of guest artists — including Ricky Skaggs, Shawn Colvin, and Jerry Garcia — plus a 23-track DVD, this collection is a portrait of a creative artist evolving his music through the years, constantly moving forward.”
And there is indeed lots of creativity and musical magic to be found on the discs in this boxed set. One of Hornsby’s big hits, “The Valley Road,” is presented here in three different versions; the original, a stunning bluegrass version, and a long live version he performed in 1990 with the Grateful Dead. The second disc includes seven piano instrumentals, another example of how Hornsby enjoys stretching out and doing whatever strikes his fancy. There is also a cool cover of Elton John’s “Madman Across the Water” and a take on Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb,” which Hornsby bookends with his own “Fortunate Son” (no, not the CCR song of the same name). The DVD is not much more than a collection of made-for-MTV clips that feature the studio version of each song, along with a few concert clips and TV appearances. Nothing I’m liable to watch again. But the music on the other four discs is definitely a treasure trove of goodies that I’ll be repeatedly listening to; powerful proof that Bruce Hornsby has been one of the more interesting, creative, and underrated musicians of the past quarter century.
In May this year Hornsby released his second live album, a specially priced double-disc set called Bride of the Noisemakers. The title, fans will note, is a reference to his first live set, Here Come the Noisemakers, also a double disc set. I haven’t heard this new one yet, but if it’s anything like the first “Noisemakers” album, it will be a very powerful and impressive recording.