11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 23 July 2001
I first heard Bruce Horsby (& the range) in 86. 'The way it is' was stunning. Over the next 10 or so years he gave us 5 more albums all of which saw him develop through each one, including collaborations with 'greatful dead' and 'don henley' ....and others. 'Spirit Trail' takes him further as a musician. There are future classics on this album. 'Fortunate son' and 'Swan son' stand out as brilliant examples of the singer song-writers art, along with the piano based variations on the themes of some tracks. This is 17 great tracks. If you like great adult music with a deeper meaning.... buy this.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 4 April 2010
Some people have a real problem with Bruce Hornsby.
Unlike some other really great piano-based songwriters such as Elton John and Billy Joel, Hornsby is, almost as an aside to the success awarded him for 80s hit The Way It Is, an unbelievably inventive and tasteful jazz pianist with an almost schizophrenic repertoire of influences ranging from New Orleans to ragtime, country and bluegrass to out and out AOR, and of course - the jazz.
And with a list of musicians in his backing band that have included fusion legend Pat Metheny and Yellowjackets driving bass force Jimmy Haslip, those "muso" influences can't help but come roaring out, often times extending some of his potential chart hits into magnificent jam sessions that indeed wouldn't sound out of place on a Yellowjackets album. Another interesting fact is that Hornsby is a long time honorary member of the Grateful Dead. A band further from "jazz" per se you would perhaps struggle to find. If all of this wasn't qualification enough to make him some kind of recording artiste royalty, he is also an insightful, funny and emotionally charged lyricist who's words all at once gracefully compliment and tensely rub up against his musical backdrops with sarcasm and a subtle hint of rebellion against the English language.
And this is the issue people seem to have. Versatility is seen as something of a fault by the wider listening audience Hornsby has found himself pitched at thanks to The Way It Is.
And for the Hornsby haters out there (why are you reading this?) - the album Spirit Trail is the one you will hate the most.
Hornsby shows off his "A Game" from start to finish. Every song on this album sounds like it came to him in some lightbulb flash while he dangled his feet over the side of a jeti and stared out over an American National Park, subsequently pained over each song to the point of musical perfection, threw them in the trash and re-played second time through with the greatest musicians in the world. Spontaneous, hugely melodic, with a recorded mix that stands up as well in 2010 as its release date (1998?).
Bruce will sit at the piano without the band, play a few beautifully altered chords and put you in your favourite movie. He'll strike up the whole ensemble and make you drive your car faster.
But mostly, he will be Bruce. At his best, cards on the table, all influences and skills on show. Celebrating what he is and what he has learned and loved about his music and the music of those around him. And if your expectations were "The Way It Is", well, you may get a few nods in that direction. But you'd be missing out on a whole world which Hornsby has bravely invited us in to. Simply a joy.
I won't isolate a song for review or description, because I want you to hear this album the way I did. Unaware of its brilliance until it crept up and bit me.
Mature without being "old", musical without being up its own behind, tasteful without being ineffectual - the album equivalent of a smile from ear to ear with a cold glass of beer on the beach.
This and Harbour Lights are definite companion pieces. Enjoy
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Spirit Trail is a definite return to form for Hornsby after the (to my ears) sub-standard and same-y Hot House. Fortunate Son alone justifies the price of admission - one of Hornsby's best songs ever. A nice degree of variation between the tracks, from up-tempo jazzy numbers to refelective ballads.
But... This version is a single disc edit of the original 2-disc US version (as I have just discovered, having bought it). It's missing three songs compared to the US release, and the songs that are on here may have been edited down to fit - certainly one has a fade at the end that surprised me. Get the US import instead - it's available from Amazon as well, and isn't much more expensive.
on 30 July 2014
I received a copy from a friend and enjoyed so much I tracked down the American release here, just for those three extra tracks. Influences include jazz (heavily), soul, blues, and pop. His unique improvisational style is tireless and I never tire of it. It is chord-based and melodic, with little or no bebop. The unifying theme of the album is a mixture of tolerance, love, and respect. Hornsby preaches against prejudice and bigotry, which he portrays in the lives of his characters who each fight it in some form or other. It is about the sad inevitabilities of life, growing apart from people you once knew and loved, growing old, facing the resentment of others, and dealing with their intolerance.
Musically, the album is a variety of colours, piano-driven with rich textures and tight grooves from the accompanying band. And though it does feel like Bruce Hornsby and band, as opposed to The Bruce Hornsby Band, the backing musicians are not without significant merit, especially among the guitarists and the wind section. The story, as I see it, is punctuated by the instrumentals, Song C, Song D, and Variations on Swan Song & Song D. They feel like tall windows, letting the light from outside flood in and cover us. They allow the album to breathe and are poignantly beautiful in themselves, particularly Song C, which is a gorgeous solo-piano ballad that seems to echo the sentiments of the album in a way that lyrics can't quite achieve.
My favourite songs, in album-order, include Resting Place, Song C, Sad Moon, Fortunate Son, Sneaking Up On Boo Radley, Line In The Dust, Listen To The Silence, and Swan Song. This is honest music from a musician who pours his heart into his work. It's the first of his albums where he stands, upright, of his own merit, and he shines like the sun.
I can't say more, or less, than buy this album. It will become a part of you.
N.B. The photograph on the cover is Bruce Hornsby's uncle, not Bruce Hornsby himself.