Bruce Hornsby Welcomes Justin Vernon, Mavis Staples On New Album Release [Review]

first_imgIn his thirty year career, it’s safe to say Bruce Hornsby has seen it all. From chart success with his band The Noisemakers on his first record as well as his latest release, Rehab Reunion, his membership in the Grateful Dead and his many other solo and side projects, he’s had a career any musician would envy. Despite the many twists and turns of his musical journey, there have been a few constants, chief among them his incredible talent. No amount of practice can replace the natural connection that Hornsby seems to posses with the very heart of music itself. Each inflection, each note seems to be informed from a higher plane or a deeper part of the soul than most can reach.Hornsby has always leaned heavily on the southern charm his Virginian pedigree have instilled in him naturally, and the new album has him fully embracing his roots. The opening track, “Over The Rise,” sets the table from the first note. Everything from the deep tonal resonance of Hornsby’s dulcimer work, the crackle of the washboard and the wail of the tracks special guest Justin Vernon of Bon Iver.  While the world waits for new solo work from Iver his collaboration with Hornsby raises the musical stakes and gives the slow build of the tune a weight that reflects the lyrical vision of a life’s love progression.Tracks like “Soon Enough” illustrate perfectly one of Hornsby’s more unsung talents, his ability to find songwriting gold in the simplest of subjects. What are for most of us simple musings on childhood memories become in Hornsby’s hands charming mixtures of entrancing cadence and striking personal insight. A later track, “Tipping,” shows an ability to look past a societal ritual to the practical effect that a few extra pennies can have on the life of another and the odd social contract that has formed between server and served.All of these thoughts are delivered in conjunction with a rich acoustic and electric accompaniment that makes the wisdom expressed all the more authentic and irresistible. Gibb Droll‘s guitar work vacillates between sweet peals of joy and intricately picked and strummed that have made him high on many artists short list for dream collaborators. Ross Holmes deft mandolin work and lilting fiddle notes establish true bluegrass bonafides with a consistently heartfelt and delicate intensity that checks the right boxes. Driving the show alongside Hornsby’s intense strumming is drummer and percussionist Sonny Emory, whose mixture of straight kit work and well worn washboard give a tidal rhythm to each composition.The title track, “Rehab Reunion,” is a fun look at temptation and the bargaining mindset of an addict that seems a perfect fit for the songs unabashed take on the classic country sound. Tracks like “Hey Kafka” and “TSA Man” again show Hornsby’s impressive ability to find inspiration in mundane and random places. Not many folks would think to write a folks song about bleak novelist and faceless bureaucrat Franz Kafka, and fewer still would make it a toe tapping and succinct summation of such a complicated individual. His commentary on the oddness of both privacy and human condition in modern society, “TSA Man,” shows an impressive understanding of the fractured state of our human connections. Avoiding the well-trodden path of the subject of the intrusive invasions, he instead focuses on the oddly positive effects of getting groped by a stranger because you want to visit relatives a few states away.Bringing in the legendary Mavis Staples to help guide Rehab Reunion to a righteous conclusion, Hornsby returns to more universally resonant subject matter with the uplifting “Celestial Railroad.” Staples voice is exactly as powerful and emotive as it was when she first set the world on fire decades ago, and the connection she has built up with listeners over the generations gives her and her words an immediate and inescapable authority. The focus on perseverance and the strength and succor that the universe has waiting for all who just reach out for it is made all the more believable by Staples impassioned urgings for us all to join her in mainlining the cosmic power of hope itself.Often when a musician whose career spans decades releases new music, it seems simply like an excuse to return to the road and play the hits. But on newest creation, Rehab Reunion, Hornsby shows that, not only is his creative well still deeply filled, it’s growing all the richer for years well lived.last_img

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *