A great example is Halcyon Days, his eighth studio album. The album made a cameo on the charts, along with a low charting single or two, then moved on. Except that fans know there is more to the album than that. Hornsby's music touches pop/rock, but also contains heavy influences of jazz, bluegrass, even classical music. He won't be defined by chart success, so let's take a look at the legacy of this album.
Anyone who watched TV in 2006 likely will recognize Gonna Be Some Changes Made from a series of Lowes commercials that used the song, and continued to use it for quite a while. Hornsby also had some guests on this album, including three rock luminaries: Elton John joined Hornsby on Dreamland, Sting contributed vocals on the aforementioned Gonna Be Some Changes Made and Halcyon Days, and Eric Clapton helped with vocals on Candy Mountain Run, in addition to playing guitar on there tracks.
Impressive credentials don't make a great album, so let's take a look at the content. If the Loews commercials didn't tire you of it, Gonna Be Some Changes Made is a great pop/rock song, with Hornsby's trademarked great piano riff and southeastern coming of age themed lyrics evoking past songs like Down the Road Tonight. Dreamland surprised me; I was expecting a piano duel between the two, but it's more of a pop ballad, John doesn't even play on the track. It's a nice song, but not amongst the best.
Candy Mountain Run, however, is amongst the best, and had gone into regular rotation in Hornsby's live request-based setlists. Clapton's assistance on the guitar solos are a nice addition to a great song. This bucks pop structure for a more folkish kind of a feel, with a continuously beat that immediately hooks you in. Another contagiously upbeat tune is Circus on the Moon. It's one of those songs that is a bit of a contradiction. The music is very upbeat, but the lyrics are about someone who feels he isn't getting any notice, at least not from the person he wants it from. His lyrics here are amazing, ranging from "I'm the perfect little foil from the prognosticators of doom" to "I'm here with the elephants, I'm cleaning up mess". It's a uniquely Bruce song.
One of my favorite Bruce Hornsby songs of all is the last song on the album, Lost in the Snow. It has an American standard kind of feel, like it's an update from a 1920's song with a little bit of folk, a little pop and a lot of jazz thrown in. The piano is amazing, and the arrangements are gorgeous. It tells the story of a little boy getting lost in the woods in a winter snow, from his point of view.
Hornsby has never shied from writing songs that aren't tailor made for real airplay. This album came on the heels of Big Swing Face, which was a departure even for him, as it strayed from his piano dominated style. That's in the past, as his fingers are back to being front and center. He's named by his incredibly talented and versatile band The Noisemakers; they would start receiving billing on the albums after this. It's a great package filled with songs that still get requested on his love shows. This might not be filled with top forty material, but it is full of Bruce. Fans of his likely already have this album; if they don't, they need it. Casual fans, this is a great place to start, as there is a diverse mix of styles at play here. If you've ever liked any of his music, there is something for you here.