Following a high-profile 2015 run reprising his role as keyboardist for the briefly reunited Grateful Dead, Bruce Hornsby returns for another set helming his own band, the Noisemakers. With Dead appreciation reaching a modern-day zenith thanks to their 50th anniversary shows and subsequent introduction to a whole new crossover audience, 2016 is a good time for one of its family members to drop a new album, and Hornsby makes a solid case with Rehab Reunion. The band's last release, 2011's Bride of the Noisemakers, was a sprawling 25-song live double album that covered a wide swath of their capabilities, from freewheeling funk and jazz odysseys to the more concise heartland Americana of Hornsby's earlier days with the Range. Though performed in the studio rather than on-stage, much of Rehab Reunion has the same loose candor of a live album, even if it focuses on a very specific version of the Noisemakers. A latter-day staple of their live shows is a semi-acoustic mid-concert set where Virginia native Hornsby eschews his piano in favor of the Appalachian dulcimer. A staple of American folk and mountain music, the lap dulcimer is a rare visitor in rock music, yet through the grace of his musical mastery, Hornsby manages to shoehorn the four-stringed instrument's limited range into ten spirited full-band tracks that certainly aren't folk songs. The beguiling and serpentine opener "Over the Rise" unfolds over five minutes, building to dramatic crescendoes and featuring a nice guest vocal spot from Bon Iver's Justin Vernon. The lighthearted account of Hornsby's college years in Miami plays out in the rustic folk-rock of "M.I.A. in M.I.A.M.I." and shines thanks to some find organ work from bandmate J.T. Thomas. The Noisemakers fire on all cylinders on "Tropical Cashmere Sweater," another highlight, closing out the album on a high note with the soulful rocker "Celestial Railroad." Written nearly 25 years earlier in hopes that the song might be recorded by the Staple Singers, Hornsby gets his wish, dueting here with Mavis Staples.
AllMusic Review by Timothy Monger