Bruce Hornsby has come a long way since the halcyon days of the Range & the Noisemakers. Where once there were catchy hooks and thumping John Molo-fortified beats, there now lay atonal études atop of dissonant soundscapes. While casual fans of the Williamsburg, VA native, yearning for the familiar strains of “The Way It Is” or “Mandolin Rain”, may approach Bruce’s latest material somewhat tepidly, it is precisely this level of musical innovation that has kept his more ardent supporters coming back for nearly four decades.
Non- Secure Connection, Mr. Hornsby’s twelfth independent studio release, picks up where 2019’s Absolute Zero left off, with an adventurous sonic palette flavored by an array of diverse influences, from avant-garde to pop. The album is also bolstered by a strong cast of musical guests, including James Mercer (The Shins, Broken Bells), Vernon Reid (Living Colour), Brad Cook (Sharon Van Etten, Hiss Golden Messenger), Wayne Pooley (Bon Iver, Jack DeJohnette), Jamilia Woods and now-frequent Hornsby collaborator Justin Vernon (Bon Iver). A special posthumous appearance from the late Leon Russell highlights one of the album’s standout tracks, “Anything Can Happen”, a smooth R&B number with an optimistic outlook that was written & recorded as a demo by the duo over 25 years ago.
The album’s remaining nine tracks offer up a smorgasbord of musical stylings that is uniquely Bruce Hornsby. Songs like “Cleopatra Drones” & “Time, The Thief” are rife with the layered vocals and atmospheric backgrounds that Bruce has started to incorporate into his more recent studio work. The beautiful “The Rat King” represents some of the pianist’s finest solo efforts while the atonal “Porn Hour” has the hallmarks of Bruce’s quirky sense of humor written all over it. “Shit’s Crazy Out Here”, another highlight, features poignant lyrics that perfectly match the disharmonious melody and chaotic Pink Floyd-esque ending. There’s even some of Hornsby’s classic pop-influenced sound on the upbeat tracks “My Resolve” & “No Limits.”
Non-Secure Connection is more than just a strong & cohesive collection of well-written material. It also represents a continuation of Bruce’s keen ability to adapt to the ever-changing musical & societal landscapes that shape our world today. While countless artists from generations old and new seem to come and go in an instant, Mr. Hornsby has remained a musical pioneer with releases such as his latest album.