CD Review of Intersections by Bruce Hornsby

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Released: 2006
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If you find yourself scoffing at the notion of a four-disc, one-DVD Bruce Hornsby boxed set, you aren’t alone; in terms of widely publicized, top-selling releases, Hornsby has essentially been a nonentity for almost as long as he’s been a recording artist, so your skepticism is more than understandable. It still makes you a person of deeply questionable musical taste, but at least you’ve got plenty of company.

Yep, to most people (who remember him at all), Bruce Hornsby is forever frozen in sepia as that guy who did that song about how that’s just the way it is and some things will never change. Except here’s the thing: He is and has long been a lot more than that, particularly for people who like their music smart and honest. Hornsby’s wandering spirit was always too restless for Top 40 playlists, and since sliding off the charts, he’s ambled all over the musical landscape, leavening his classic singer/songwriter pop with touches of jazz, bluegrass, and R&B. That his public persona has remained a dusty 45 with “The Way It Is” on Side A and “Mandolin Rain” on Side B is grossly unfair.

Hence the box.

This isn’t your typical career retrospective, however; it bears more resemblance to Billy Joel’s recent My Lives than Clapton’s Crossroads, at least insofar as it contains relatively few album tracks, and isn’t really intended as an introduction to the artist. Disc One, for instance – subtitled “Top 90 Time” – includes 13 of Hornsby’s best-known songs, but 11 of the tracks are previously unreleased live performances. Some, such as the quietly stunning solo version of “The Way It Is” that opens the disc, bear almost no resemblance to their studio counterparts.

If you’ve spent any time with Hornsby’s catalog, this isn’t really surprising; in fact, it’s gratifying. Given enough room to add a few dozen curlicues, he’s never connected a pair of dots with a straight line, and for longtime fans, Intersections works flawlessly as a persuasive affirmation of the breadth of Hornsby’s talent. For someone wondering whatever happened to that Bruce Hornsby guy, though, this will likely be a longer, less interesting answer than hoped for – start off with Greatest Radio Hits, move on to the studio albums, and then Intersections may work. In context.

What this means, of course, is that there probably isn’t much of an audience for this box, just as there hasn’t been much of one for most of what Hornsby’s recorded and released over the last decade and change. A tip of the hat, then, to the accountants and shoe salesmen who run Sony/BMG; whether their decision to release Intersections was motivated by a need for a tax writeoff or an appreciation for great music, everybody wins.

~Jeff Giles