Recorded in California
There are some albums for which, however many years pass since their recording, always remain close to my heart. This is one of them. Despite being in dire need of a remastering, having a bit of a bright, tinny, late eighties sound, it is simply a wonderful collection of melodic, piano-driven, emotive songs.
Bruce Hornsby’s lyrics are perceptive, moving, worldly-wise, mournful and yet uplifting all at the same time. His ear for a catchy tune is superb and his piano-playing is unique and instantly recognisable. I read someone compare it at times to Rachmaninov. I wouldn’t know but it certainly is integral to the perfect soundscape of this album.
The opener, the environmentally-conscious anthem of “Look Out Any Window” gets the album off to a vibrant start, Hornsby’s insistent piano driving on his accomplished rant against chemical pollution in search of profit. This is just a rock song, but its arrangements are unusually grandiose which lends huge impact the song. “The Valley Road” is an upbeat, tuneful singalong number that covers up a dark tale of an unwanted pregnancy - “everybody said she’s gone to her sister’s, we all knew what they were talking about...”. Hornsby has the ability to dress a serious subject up in the most beautiful of melodies.
“I Will Walk With You” opens with the most delicious piece of piano before Hornsby’s sad, yearning, evocative voice comes in. It just moves me so much. Beautiful. Lovely lyrics and delivery. Just perfect. The two mighty cornerstones of this album come next - the image-packed, often bleak but inspiring “The Road Not Taken” with its lyrics about falling in love with an Appalachian girl and the sumptuous “The Show Goes On”. The former has some simply majestic piano passages and a gorgeous hook. A gentle accordion sounds in the background like a mountain breeze at times. The piano passage in the middle break is almost classical. The song is heartbreaking but inspirational at the same time. Few songwriters have this ability. Hornsby does, as does Mary Chapin Carpenter. “The Show Goes On” is a lovely, romantic (yet at times sad) song, with yet another exhilaratingly catchy hook. The piano introduction is again truly magnificent as is the beautiful bit in the middle. It is so hard not to go over the top and wax lyrical about songs like this. It is just wonderful. I can’t help myself.
A few comparative rockers are also in Hornsby’s canon here - the nostalgic “The Old Playground” where he vaguely remembers his childhood amongst wiser, older emotions; the blues-harmonica enhanced “Defenders Of The Flag” a song whose meaning I have never been quite sure, but it comes across as a wryly cynical one; “Jacob’s Ladder” is a corker, a full on potent rock song with a great opening line - “I met a fan dancer in downtown Birmingham..”.
Just when you think that is that for wistful, poignant love songs we are treated to the treasure that is “When The Dreaming’s Done”. Some Parisian-style accordion drives this entrancing song along. For anyone who is or has been head over heels in love with someone this is for you. One of my favourite songs of all time from one of my favourite albums of all time.