Bruce Hornsby and the Noisemakers: Levitate

His last two releases were a bluegrass record with Ricky Skaggs and a jazz trio album with Christian McBride and Jack DeJohnette, and a few songs from his latest are already earmarked for a stage musical – but Bruce Hornsby hasn’t forgotten about pop music, as evidenced by the strong, eclectic batch of tunes he lined up for his 11th studio album (and the first co-credited to his longtime backing band, the Noisemakers), Levitate. These dozen tracks tie together a handful of Hornsby’s multitudinous pop personae – piano balladeer, funk-loving programmer, raucous bandleader – without any one element overshadowing the rest. Where Levitate deviates from previous efforts is in its lack of piano solos. Hornsby and the Noisemakers aren’t afraid to lay back and blow – “Continents Drift,” for example, clocks in at almost seven and a half minutes – but the focus here is on the songs, which Hornsby pares down to their most essential parts without robbing the arrangements of any of their robust vitality. He continues his streak of cockeyed lyrical musings, too, weighing in on the role of disease in colonial American history (“The Black Rats of London”), Teddy Roosevelt (“Prairie Dog Town”), and the beloved eccentricities of Southern living (“In the Low Country”). Hornsby’s audience might have lost quite a bit of its heft since his “The Way It Is” days, but his music is better than ever. (Verve Forecast 2009)

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