It's hard to imagine Bruce Hornsby's listeners being fazed much by anything he does anymore. Harmonic layers of semi-processed voice drones in an ambient haze? Classy strings crossed with jarringly angular piano and over-jokey lyrics about internet girls? After a career that's touched on jazz and bluegrass as prominently as folk and classical, his familiar crowd knows how to take it all in stride. He could attempt perhaps the most smoove-jiving half-sincere-half-parody R&B pastiche ever, and hardly anyone would bat an eye. Oh, hang onhe does that here also.
Though that particular moment is one of his most gleefully over-the-top to date, it's a perfectly straight-faced one with the cast genuinely having heaps of fun, and of course nothing could have gone far wrong with the inimitable Leon Russell on board (Hornsby heard some further potential in the track he first co-wrote and demoed with Russell in the late '80s, and it's hard to say he's wrong). On top of that, the title "Anything Can Happen" will possibly become the most quintessential of his career. By that point in the set we've also heard some simple balladry, catchy string-tinged pop and a joyful trip-hop-funk jam to pack a dance floor in half a minute flat. Clearly the ideas still kept flying thick and fast after the wildly eclectic stew of Absolute Zero (Zappo, 2019). If this followup doesn't throw in the kitchen sink quite as completely, he's still clearing plates and loading the dishwasher.
Non-Secure Connection (like much of Hornsby's catalogue as a whole) succeeds because he's not actually setting out to shock or defy expectations. Clearly the only concern is following ideas that seem fun and interesting. As usual, this batch of ideas again provides space for some top-shelf collaboratorsfamiliar returning names like the Noisemakers and Justin Vernon are joined by Jamila Woods, Vernon Reid, and notably the Shins' James Mercer on the strong, hooky anthem "My Resolve." As always, it's the best kind of feedback loop where everyone is happy to push each other somewhere new and unexpected.
Hornsby remains unafraid to bend the ear with weird harmoniesexactly twice as much as on Zero, as he amusingly observes. Still, challenging spots like the appropriately twisted "Shit's Crazy Out Here" are handily outnumbered by pieces intriguing and approachable for all their smarts. Things fittingly close in a fast-driving burst of optimism with "No Limits" (another definitive title, that) declaring that Hornsby is never done taking us all for a ride. If the outside world isn't getting any less nuts, clearly the best response is to stay creatively crazy enough to match it.
Cleopatra Drones; Time, the Thief; Non-Secure Connection; The Rat King; My Resolve; Bright Star
Cast; Shit’s Crazy Out Here; Anything Can Happen; Porn Hour; No Limits.