Album Reviews

Bruce Hornsby – Solo Concerts (Vanguard Records)

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Bruce Hornsby Solo ConcertsIf one were to give a reward for the most versatile performer possessing popular appeal, Bruce Hornsby would surely be considered one of the more worthy recipients. A successful solo star, a latter-day member of the reconstituted Grateful Dead and erstwhile collaborator on projects covering an impressive array of genres — from rock and Americana to bluegrass, jazz and practically every idiom in-between — he’s demonstrated boundless ambition throughout his 30-year career. So if the self-described Solo Concerts seems to suggest that he’s pealing back the layers, in truth it’s actually the opposite.

While the settings may be bare-boned, the music is dizzying by degree. Jazz, classical, pop, blues, boogie-woogie, and a handful of Hornsby’s own standards mesh in an impressive 20-song recital featuring Hornsby alone at the piano in front of a rapt crowd. (In a nod to vanity, the first track is simply the audience applause as he takes the stage.) There’s no “The Way It Is” — that’s been reprised numerous times throughout his career — but “The Valley Road” and “Mandolin Rain” get reworked to the crowd’s delight, these newer versions altered to accommodate the looser, more carefree circumstance. Lesser-known material is integrated with contemporary classical themes, allowing him to exercise his dexterity and creativity like never before. Whereas this one-man show would probably make more of an impact if it was offered on DVD — thereby allowing viewers to witness his nimble technique close-up — Solo Concerts still manages to make the case that Hornsby’s indulgence provides nothing less than a dazzling display.

– Lee Zimmerman

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