He may have had some commercial success early on, but Bruce Hornsby was never a pop star in any sense of the word. He never really wanted to be, actually. Something about the guileless single “The Way It Is” pushed him into that spotlight in the mid 1980s; he's told just about everyone who will listen it was a fluke.
The Virginia native’s motives have been evident from early on for those paying attention: he’s far more interested in challenging himself and his fans than just about anything else.
Hornsby is a methodical tightrope walker on the ivories – maybe even piano’s answer to “the Great Blondin,” Jean-François Gravelet – and his eloquent, right-hand piano runs and syncopated melodies are instantly recognizable. Like Gravelet, he has never played it safe. Whether in career “left turns” with jazz and blues musicians, producing Leon Russell, writing for Chaka Khan and Don Henley, or picking up Brent Mydland’s keyboard gig with the Grateful Dead, he delights most by following his creative muse.
Intersections [1985 - 2005], the stunning 4 CD/1DVD box set spanning Hornsby’s 20-year recording career, celebrates more left turns and unique collaborations than pop star moments. It’s a supremely masterful collection and certainly not for the faint of heart. Fans of his singles (most which makes up the first disc of Intersections) should pick up his single Greatest Radio Hits disc instead.
The second disc is among the most beautiful, emotive and fascinating work in the collection. It gleans Hornsby’s performances from tribute records, his film soundtrack work and some delicious solo piano works – identified as “Song A” and so on through the early alphabet. (His “Song H” had a Grammy nod this year Best Pop Instrumental Performance against Béla Fleck, Brian Setzer Orchestra, Enya and George Benson). All great stuff, and a lot of it new.
Discs three, four and the DVD really go for it as fan-pleasers. Dubbed the “By Request” portion of the box, it features the very best of what Hornsby’s capable of in a live setting and takes its cues from Hornsby-philes, all who weighed in on their favorites prior to the set's release.
By request, he takes the upbeat “Spider Fingers” and melds it seamlessly in a McCoy Tyner-like expression of Miles Davis’ “Tempus Fugit,” joins Lefty Frizell’s “Long Black Veil” with his own “White-Wheeled Limousine” (great bedfellows, indeed) and offers up collaborations with Robbie Robertson, B.B. King, Lou Reed, Branford Marsalis and Roger Waters of Pink Floyd, the latter for a more conventional “Comfortably Numb.”
The title track to Hornsby’s 1993 effort Harbor Lights is about the only thing that’s missing. Not bad for an anthology that manages to account for absolutely everything else. In the end, Intersections will leave you speechless – and in an economically viable way, as Hornsby isn’t into gouging his fans for such an engaging, exploratory experience. Good for him… and for you.