Bruce Hornsby's production has always been a bit on the heavy side, a few inches short of elevator music, but it used to be excusable. His backup bands were composed of extremely talented musicians (his drummer, John Molo, made my head spin) and guest artists (Jerry Garcia, Bela Fleck, Shawn Colvin, Shaka Kahn and Pat Metheny to name a few notables) and their hard work made the glossy, semitransparent sound quality tolerable.

The fact that Hornsby's piano work sometimes sounded like he was born with four hands certainly didn't hurt.

With his 2002 release, Big Swing Face, Hornsby has abandoned practically everything that made him great.

Where to begin? I'll hit you with the biggest shock first: Hornsby doesn't play his beloved baldwin piano on any of the album's eleven tracks. It's synthesizers and vintage organs all the way. His producer even synthed his voice, Cher-style, on a few tracks. Unbelievably this actually works on The Chill because his altered voice is juxtaposed against his natural one. Cute trick, I'll admit, but it falls flat on the rest of the album.

The overall production is pretty standard for these days - it's absolutely flat. There are no dynamic shifts, no sudden feel changes, nothing. The instrumentation is lifeless. The solos are slightly inspired but basically emotionless. The cheesy sound effects really need to go.

All this is galling enough, but the most horrible part is that the songwriting is artistically sound. His lyrics, while nowhere near as good as those found on Spirit Trail or Hot House are still decent; his meanings are obscured as always (though he appears to have ditched the story song format. For shame!) but they rhyme cleverly and compliment his melodies well. I've heard these same songs performed by Hornsby solo, just him and his piano and they're very, very good.

Someone needs to cut off his producer's hands.

Track List:

  1. Sticks & Stones
  2. Cartoons & Candy
  3. The Chill
  4. Big Swing Face
  5. This Too Shall Pass
  6. Try Anything Once
  7. Take Out The Trash
  8. The Good Life
  9. So Out
  10. No Home Training
  11. Place Under the Sun

Title Track lyrics

Big Swing Face

Your cymbal crashing, your teeth gnashing
You're in your element
We love to see you, we'd love to be you
You're in your elephant
Costume, do whatever you've got to do
To make the people scream for you
We love you when you've got your

Big swing face
You're rolling eyes way out in space
Looks like a beautiful, beautiful place
You've got your big swing face

You're in the arena, you bow to the crowd
But you'd better look down
Some people laughing, it's easy to laugh
When your zipper's down
Down, fly's open

Big swing face
You're rolling eyes way out in space
Looks like a beautiful beautiful place
You've got your big swing face

I know your costume foolery
Beads, sandals and jewelery
You're a funny guy
We'll never wonder why
We love it when you've got your

Big swing face
You're rolling eyes way out in space
Looks like a beautiful beautiful place
You've got your big swing face

Copyright 2002 by Bruce Hornsby, used by permission.

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