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Singing for the present

Patrick Reidy | Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Bruce Hornsby stormed onto the music scene in 1986 with his triple-platinum album “The Way It Is.” This Friday night, he graces the stage and piano of the Leighton Concert Hall at the Marie P. DeBartolo Center for the Performing Arts, heralding an evening of music that is sure to please audiences both young and old.

Three Top 20 hits from “The Way It Is,” including the No. 1 title track, launched Hornsby to the 1986 Grammy for Best New Artist. He went on to sell more than 10 million records and has earned Grammys for Best Bluegrass Recording and Best Pop Instrumental.

A pianist and composer, Hornsby has challenged the parameters of the mainstream music world, as well as his own creative boundaries, finding inspiration in a wide array of musical influence including jazz, pop, classical, bluegrass, rock and vaudeville. His songs never cease to be lyrically clever and musically formidable, permitting listeners interpretive space to judge each masterpiece according to their own taste and perspective.

“I always wanted my music to have a real strong sense of place,” Hornsby said on the biography section of his official Web site. “And I’ve always wanted to find a place in my music to express good playing also. I’m someone for whom playing the instrument well is really important.”

The Observer was unable to contact Hornsby for this article.

His music, both old and new, sends a strong message that Hornsby practices what he preaches, and he practices well.

One of pop music’s most in-demand sidemen, Hornsby has played with the likes of Bob Dylan, Don Henley, Bonnie Raitt and Willie Nelson. From 1990 through 1992 he was also a part-time member of the legendary rock band the Grateful Dead, with whom he performed more than 100 concerts in America and Europe.

Recently Hornsby has recorded with Eric Clapton, Sting, Elton John and others in the production of his latest album, “Halcyon Days.” Evoking hopes for the future and memories of the past, Hornsby reflects on life with children and what it means to be a child.

“Most of this record is really influenced by me being a parent,” Hornsby said on his site. “So much of it was written based on my experiences as a parent, worrying about my kids. It’s inspired by trying to put myself in their shoes. It’s tough to be a kid.”

Combining with Elton John in “Dreamland,” Hornsby sings a 21st century lullaby to his and all sons dealing with problems of self-esteem. “Gonna Be Some Changes Made,” in Hornsby’s words, “is about any bumbling idiot who can’t seem to get his [stuff] together.” The album speaks to those with families and those without alike, telling of trials and errors in dealing with those you love and those you live with.

In his first trip to the DPAC, Hornsby looks to treat fans to an evening of old and new, resting on his laurels only so far as his own musical talent and ambition will permit.

The musical capacities of the Leighton Concert Hall will be tested through a diverse repertoire packed with hits like “Every Little Kiss” and “Mandolin Rain,” music that will have fans both dancing in their seats and soothed into a state of peaceful ease.

Any question of Hornsby’s devotion to his audience and performance is readily answered by the singer.

“To be creative, spontaneous in the moment and make music in the present tense, that’s what we’re all about,” he said. “I never liked to play the same thing every time … I think of my songs as living beings that evolve and change and grow through the years.”

Creative, spontaneous, making music in the present tense – Hornsby concertgoers will leave satisfied and completed.