Bruce Hornsby

Halcyon Days

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Big Swing Face announced a new and improved Bruce Hornsby, one who wasn't afraid to "Try Anything Once." The lead track of Halcyon Days, "Gonna Be Some Changes Made" -- subtly echoing "The Way It Is" in its piano work -- continues this affirmation of progress. Too bad then that the rest of the album slowly works to erase this growth. Still, the first half of Halcyon Days, while much less ambitious than Big Swing Face, starts off promisingly enough. From the poppy "Changes" to the soothing title track, Hornsby delivers an agreeable, if overlong, set of songs. But the latter half quickly loses focus, stumbling with tracks like the attempted Randy Newman pastiche "What the Hell Happened?," the goofy "Heir Gordon" -- which both succumb to Hornsby's latter-day proclivity for piano noodling -- and "Song F," a seeming leftover from Spirit Trail. At his best, Hornsby is both an accomplished musician and a great storyteller, able to slip into the shoes of his characters, whether it's the lonely worker of "Every Little Kiss," the interracial couple in "Talk of the Town," or the strip-club doorman of "Walk in the Sun." But in many of Halcyon Days' songs, he often seems more interested in weird wordplay. What's missing is the sense of time and place, and the in-the-moment clarity that defines his classic songs. In its place is an off-putting cleverness. After the pleasant shock of Big Swing Face, Hornsby's follow-up is a strangely middling effort that won't win new fans or satiate the devoted. In its own restrained way, it's a bid for commercial airplay, with guest stars Elton John, Sting, and Eric Clapton all doing their part for the cause. But instead of the polished work it should be, Halcyon Days has the haphazard feel of a collection of outtakes and B-sides.

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