intersections 1985 2005 – Bruce Hornsby
Bruce Hornsby takes his work seriously. Very seriously. Onstage, we’re treated to a musician, with a smile genuinely pasted on his face that’s only interrupted by the stern look of concentration. Behind that look rests an artist who has been leading a creative life since his days in high school. He’s driven home the point several times that his creative desires are geared towards more than hit records. He disbanded his backing band, the Range, in order to find new challenges for himself and broadened his sonic palette by playing with peers and influences. Then, he took a break in order to work steadily on his piano playing chops, which resulted in the album Spirit Trail and subsequent solo tour.
With the four CD/one DVD box set, intersections 1985-2005, Hornsby proudly shows off his complex artistry – a mix of hooks, improvisation and finely-tuned arrangements — that, according to his high standards, can often bestow musical goodness. For those who purchase 2004’s Greatest Radio Hits, this set ignores those particular studio versions in favor of material, much of it live and unreleased, that exhibits specific moments where all the elements worked to his satisfaction. The 53 tracks display the development of Hornsby as a writer, but more importantly, as a musician. The two decades worth of material also includes studio tracks as well as collaborations that were used on film soundtracks or tribute albums.
Letting listeners immediately know that things are going to be a little different here, “The Way It Is,” the opening track on the first disc, the self-deprecatingly titled “Top 90 Time,” finds a solo Hornsby in 2004 stretching out the song’s central theme to include classical elements (Bach’s “Goldberg Variations” is what he reveals in the accompanying and succinctly revealing booklet). On other tracks in the set, he moves to the whims of the chord structures, taking “White Wheeled Limousine into Long Black Veil” and “King of the Hill” eventually into “Mystery Train.”
On CD two, “Solo Piano, Tribute Records, country-bluegrass, movie songs,” we receive a lengthy glimpse of his series of solo piano pieces, two of which made it on Spirit Trail. While these excursions offer a freedom that’s unavailable to him while fronting a full band, the numbers do not sink into self-indulgence due to Hornsby’s abilities, but mainly to his melodic sense. Elsewhere, you find his covers of the Grateful Dead’s “Jack Straw” and Elton John’s “Madman Across the Water” plus work with Branford Marsalis, Ricky Skaggs and Ornette Coleman and a rare version of “The Valley Road” played during the Dead’s Fall 1990 European Tour.
On the final two discs, “By Request (Favorites and Best Songs),” there are nearly two dozen tracks of songwriting infused with the gospel spirit of uplifting those who listen as well as a the dual action of stellar musicianship that can switch gears at a moment’s notice. Hornsby’s style impressed those who attended the Furthur Festivals and shows by The Other Ones, allowing an even larger dose of his musical make up to emerge.
Whether he views it as the bane of his existence or the best thing to happen to his career, Hornsby’s inclusion within the jamband world has allowed him to pretty much follow his artistic explorations while retaining a steady audience willing to go along for the ride. Sure, he has to endure the occasional shout-out during a show for a Dead cover, but for a rock/jazz/bluegrass/classical/gospel artist this embrace by those who seek a sprinkle of “magic” aroused by a perfect union of song, musician and inspiration can find its results on intersections. It’s a place of joyous rewards that resulted from a serious work ethic.