Monday, May 2, 2011

Bruce Hornsby Hot House 1995 and Spirit Trail 1998

Bruce Hornsby made three records with The Range in the eighties, and they were certainly well-crafted, well-received product made for fans of post-Police Sting. They were good records with interesting pop ideas, but Hornsby had more to offer.

He began his solo career in earnest in the nineties while also playing piano fairly regularly with the Grateful Dead. Hot House, his second release under his own name, is an excellent rocking piano record. Spider Fingers kicks things off with a driving rhythm, rocking piano and a hot drum line. Just a taste of bluegrass colors White Wheeled Limousine, another driving beat pushing the song forward. The Tango King stomps with a Band-like organ figure and organic feel. Big Rumble, Country Doctor, Hot House Ball and Cruise Control are all up-tempo rockers that add various textures to the record, with big horn arrangements, talented guest stars, and Hornsby's easy and talented singing. John Molo's drumming is a consistent high point.

The slower songs are just as good, with the single Walk In The Sun, the jazzy The Changes, and melancholic The Longest Night all adding great songs to the mix. But this baby rocks better than almost any other piano-led record. There's enough fast songs to take it on a road trip. In a perfect world there would have been five hit singles.

Three years later, the follow-up, Spirit Trail, a sprawling 2-CD affair, proved that Hornsby knew another way to make a great record. A mix of great songs similar to those on Hot House, plus solo piano compositions, longer jam-band styled pieces, Range-like earnest ballads, and that singular approach to Americana that fuses Grateful Dead, The Band and Dr. John.

It's got everything he has to offer, and almost every song is a keeper. From the opening rocker King Of The Hill to his reimaging of China Cat Sunflower to the solo piano Song D, it all works.

These two mid-nineties records really capture a man at the top of his game. If you're looking for the best from a beguiling if somewhat inconsistent artist, it's right here.

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