Picks and Pans Review: Scenes from the Southside

updated 05/09/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/09/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Bruce Hornsby and the Range

Far from being satisfied to recycle his 1987 debut hit, The Way It Is, Hornsby has taken things up another level in this follow-up, which is as enjoyable as it is audacious. Most surprising and satisfying are the big splashes of jazz piano improvisations that Hornsby injects into such tracks as The Valley Road and The Road Not Taken. It isn't necessary to know that Keith Jarrett is one of Hornsby's idols to recognize the sumptuous echoes of Jarrett's category-defying, expansive Köln Concerts approach. Hornsby also demonstrates that the rock-pop-country amalgam he plays can be enhanced by long instrumental stretches; a productive tension builds up between the vocal choruses, a kind of musical turbocharging. Hornsby and his four-piece band go through a variety of material, from the shuffling The Old Playground to the infectious groove of I Will Walk with You to Jacob's Ladder (the tune Hornsby's sometime mentor, Huey Lewis, recorded in 1986). Hornsby wrote three of the nine tracks himself, the other six with his brother John. They can match populist impulses with Mellencamp or Springsteen, yet the Hornsbys aren't afraid to cast a jaundiced eye on the grassroots once in a while. In Defenders of the Flag, they write about patriotic types who have celebrated a few times too often: "When the party's over/ Their stomachs start to sag." The Road Not Taken, using the image from the Robert Frost poem, shows a similar refusal to patronize. There must be something wrong here. Maybe a guest soloist or two might have been nice. Let's not complain. It's all too rare to find a record that is this thoughtful, this musically engaging and this much general fun. (RCA)

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