Halycon Days – Bruce Hornsby
Columbia Records 92652
After nearly two decades with RCA Records, Bruce Hornsby jumps ship (or was he escorted to the door?) to Columbia. Home to Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen may be just the place for Hornsby's own brand of creative musings.
Of course, this is the 21st century and beans need to be counted, which may explain the high profile guests on the piano man's latest, Halycon Days and the radio-friendly sheen that covers many of the album’s 11 tracks. Eric Clapton and Sting showing up on the opening number/first single, "Gonna Be Some Changes Made," is enough to get radio programmers to take notice. And Elton John joining in for a duet on "Dreamland" should get those same folks salivating at a later date for what would likely be single number two.
Thankfully, this is still Hornsby, the man who has remained faithful to his creative whims rather than his commercial stature, who went down a jazz road rather than replicating "The Way It Is" for some adult contemporary audience, joined the Grateful Dead when his record company probably wanted more product, took time off from touring and recording to be a dad to his twin sons and practiced, practiced, practiced the 88 keys of ebony and ivory and then ignored all the years of live playing to make a studio record with hip-hop and electronica influences (Big Swing Face). A resume like that and it’s a wonder that RCA stuck with him for so many years.Except for John's vocals, which are nice but expendable, the guest contributions by Clapton and Sting do not overpower the material. It's almost seems like a Hornsby prank of sorts that "Gonna Be Some Changes Made" incorporates some of the approach used on Big Swing Face alongside a more comfy R&B, gospel terrain.
The rest of the album finds Hornsby in his usual lyrical and instrumental mix of playfulness and seriousness. According to your mood, the self-deprecating "What the Hell Happened" can be comical and/or sad. "Heir Gordon" features a nice ragtime feel. Like "Heir," "Circus on the Moon" also features an exquisite example of his soloing abilities that link classical, jazz and blues.
"Song F" seems to be his response to making the record execs happy. It's a classical composition featuring piano with support from violins, violas and cellos. It is reminiscent of some of the musical explorations on the album, Spirit Trail. The meditative moment makes a nice segue by bringing the keyboard theme to the album’s closing number, "Lost in the Snow." The drama induced by the instrumental moves into an uplifting time of the joy and pleasures provided by Mother Nature.
The performance corresponds to the infectious sounds throughout Halycon Days, that of Hornsby relishing a few more minutes of life as a musician.