Fancying himself a rebel unbeholden to any musical trend, Hornsby has made another extraordinarily personal album, stuffed with living guests like Bon Iver's Justin Vernon, deceased dignitaries like Leon Russell (via a demo tape recorded 25 years ago) and knowing producers like Tony Berg who have influenced careers as varied as Mitchell Froom, Jon Brion and Peter Gabriel. Shaped equally by the film cues he's done for Spike Lee films as well as his "The Way It Is" past with The Range, Hornsby still lives to move forward, or as he states in "My Resolve," the album's single/emotional manifesto: to "Move on up, above the hill/ To maybe fully flower."
Moved to respond to America's overdue racial reckoning, the album's center is "Bright Star Cast" where he sings "Out of a hard past/ Now our bright star is cast," and is assisted by a trio of producers including Vernon and Brad Cook (Sharon Van Etten) and twelve players including vocalist Jamila Woods and former Living Colour guitarist Vernon Reid. Despite the different combinations of instrumental voices and intricate arrangements, the sound here, as with all Hornsby projects, is refreshingly uncompressed and meticulously mixed.
Strings—alone or in groups—have become a key element in his instrumental palette and in the dark, unsettling, "Shit's Crazy Out Here" they blossom into a full orchestra, thanks to the University of Miami’s Orchestra of St. Hank's, who also appear on another expressionistic jaunt "Porn House", which wryly dwells on the cyber world's obsession with sex.
A testament to Hornsby's expansive vision, "Anything Can Happen," the posthumous collaboration with Russell, is the album's undoubted highlight—sweet, gently swaying soul with his lithe vocals accompanied at a perfect tempo by Hornsby on electric sitar and tasteful string accents from yMusic’s Rob Moose. The closer, "No Limits" reaffirms Hornsby's dedication to discovery rather than resting on the past: "In a euphoric state/ But it'll move away/ But I'm gonna cling/ While I'm riding on/ This ephemeral wing."
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