Bruce Hornsby & The Noisemakers 'Rehab Reunion' - ALBUM REVIEW

Bruce Hornsby & The Noisemakers ‘Rehab Reunion’ – ALBUM REVIEW

Bruce Hornsby: eighties pop-rock smoothie, honorary Grateful Dead member, Tupac samplee.

Unlike all of them he’s still going strong, and as it turns out is still game to brave uncharted waters. Hornsby’s been a folkophile-in-denial since a 1989 team-up with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, but he’s always stayed faithful to his old jazz piano. But no more; with new album ‘Rehab Reunion’ Hornsby ditches the ivory and goes scampering dulcimer-first into the upbeat Americana record that was always hiding in his heart.

The album kicks off with the Appalachian log-beater ‘Over The Rise’, featuring ubiquitous Indie-Folk mystic-man Justin Vernon on ethereal backing vocals. From there it’s a leisurely, mandolin-thick canter through a string of tracks both cheerful and thoughtful. In true Hornsby style, each has a sing-it-in-your-sleep hook, yet contain ample breathing room for the extended improv-jams these tracks will need when performed live. Highlights include the lyrically playful ‘M.I.A In M.I.A.M.I’ and the philosophical oddball ‘Hey Kafka’. The record concludes with the soul-sprinkled duet ‘Celestial Railroad’, featuring legendary gospel khaleesi Mavis Staples.

But the album’s zenith is penultimate slow-down ‘The Valley Road’, the pop-rock classic first released by Hornsby in 1988. This, his second reimagining, is wisely stripped-back, and showcases the honest heartland earnestness his vocals have acquired. It has a weighty end-of-the-movie vibe to it, like Hornsby is riding into the sunset waving a fond farewell to his pop-piano past. A lot of the album feels that way.

Nevertheless, this is still very much a Bruce Hornsby record. Every track is marinated in small-town nostalgia and there’re enough sing-along choruses and smooth-sailing guitars to keep the old guard satisfied. There’s even a cheeky jazz-organ solo on the track ‘Tipping’.

Also in evidence are the improvisational ticks that made Hornsby such a legend on stage. The tracks are laced with Hornsby’s usual selection of yeahs, whoops, and shout-outs as his band-mates take solos. Said band, The Noisemakers, do a rousing job of backing their man down to country-folk town, and power through their parts like combines through a cornfield.

All things said, it’s an album that sounds surprisingly fresh. By rights Hornsby should be kicking back on the nostalgia circuit with Huey Lewis and Toto, churning out perfunctory stocking-fillers and living pretty on the royalties from yoghurt commercials. Instead he’s chalked up a heartland-folk slam-dunk that’s re-energised his reputation as a sharp-as-a-tack songwriter, and might even snag a few new listeners from the Mumford and Frank Turner legions. The strangest thing is, despite going piano-free for the first time in his career, Hornsby’s never sounded more at home.

‘Rehab Reunion’ is out now via 429 Records.

This Bruce Hornsby & The Noisemakers article is written Matt George Lovett, a GIGsoup contributor. Edited by Fraisia Dunn. Photo by Keith Lanpher


Want the latest music news, opinions and reviews?Subscribe to the GIGsoup newsletter today

Explore the latest music from the comfort of your own inbox

Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!