Bruce Hornsby

Intersections 1985-2005

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The type of warm, sophisticated jazz-inflected pop/rock proffered by Bruce Hornsby & the Range was probably the last thing anyone expected to find at the top of the charts in the late '80s. Yet Hornsby, with his virtuosic piano playing and mature song craftsmanship, placed six consecutive singles into the Top 40 between 1986 and 1990, among them the number one "The Way It Is" and the equally solid "Mandolin Rain" and "The Valley Road," both of which reached the Top Five. Hornsby's career has taken many turns in the two decades since his first appearance, and while his commercial fortunes have dissipated, his willingness to grow as a musician, to dodge stagnation, has only expanded. That's what Intersections 1985-2005 is all about. With 2004's single-disc Greatest Radio Hits already out there for those who just want, well, the greatest radio hits, this four-CD/one-DVD kitchen-sink of a box set is intended for the true believer. The CDs are divvied thematically. The first, titled "Top 90 Time," contains the hits, albeit rarely in their familiar studio versions. Most are previously unreleased live and alternate versions, sometimes performed faithfully to the hit renditions, other times warped beyond recognition. With the Range, Hornsby offers his own 2005 take on "The End of the Innocence," the song he wrote for Don Henley, while "The Way It Is" opens the collection in a solo piano version. The second disc is easily the most interesting and eclectic. A mishmash of solo piano noodlings ushers it in, many of them simply assigned letters of the alphabet ("Song A," etc.) and released as album tracks over the years. There are collaborations with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (a bluegrass take on "The Valley Road") and jazz legend Ornette Coleman (an unreleased 1995 Coleman composition titled "Hop, Skip and Jump"), and covers of Elton John and Grateful Dead tunes (Hornsby served briefly as a member of the Dead during a transitional period for the band); there's yet another workup of "The Valley Road," one of many songs Hornsby penned with his brother John, which represents that side trip -- the live Dead version from 1990 makes a particularly convincing case for his contribution to that band. Various songs recorded for film soundtracks round out the disc. The third and fourth CDs were chosen "By Request," both Hornsby's and fans', and while the surprises are fewer here -- much of it consists of album tracks -- there are still a number of previously hidden little gems, both solo and in various group configurations, worth investigating. A solo piano version of "Sticks & Stones," which opened up the largely electronic Big Swing Face album in 2002, is a totally unexpected reimagining, and if Hornsby's recent composition "Fortunate Son" (no relation to the Creedence Clearwater Revival classic) bears a resemblance to Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb," that's because Hornsby once dueted with that group's Roger Waters on said song and felt inspired to write this tribute. The actual video clip of the Waters collaboration is among the 22 tracks found on the accompanying DVD, which also includes an array of live performances, TV appearances, a handful of music videos (some Spike Lee-directed) and other odds and ends, even a duet with Branford Marsalis on "The Star-Spangled Banner," from the 1997 World Series. This box isn't the place to start a Bruce Hornsby collection, but those who've hung in there with him will find it amply rewarding.

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