So in his first solo effort, he wanted the opportunity to work with some truly great musicians, and to let them play as they wanted. This album lends itself to allowing longer instrumental solos, letting the music flow without the constraints of looking for a single. Along for the ride was Range drummer John Molo, and noted bassist Jimmy Haslip. Aside from that, a parade of guest musicians contributed to each track.
The title track, "Harbor Lights", is a jazz-influenced track, with Pat Metheny as a guest guitarist. Like much of Hornsby's work, there's an element of southern storytelling in the song. It's a good opener, one that gives the listener a good idea of what the rest of the album will deliver. Metheny makes several appearances on the album, including the next track, "Talk of the Town". This track is the first of several to feature two more notable guest musicians, saxophone player Branford Marsalis, and guesting on bongos of all things, Phil Collins. These two would also pair up for the third track, "Long Tall Cool One", with Collins doing backing vocals on this track.
The rest of the album features a similar barrage of guest performers, including Bonnie Raitt and Jerry Garcia, among others. But this is not a duets album. The guests stay very much in the background, contributing musically, or doing backing vocals, but this is Hornsby's album. He's always sure to be front and center with lead vocals and his trademark piano skills. These other famous musicians are allowed to be musicians; they contribute to the music, they don't overwhelm it. The might do an instrumental solo, but the tracks never become their work, it's always Hornsby's.
This may be Hornsby's first solo effort, but he's by no means a novice when it comes to making music. This is not "The Way It Is 2". Hornsby's music is always new, he moves on fast. Hornsby's live shows use audience requests to determine setlists, and one track that has consistently remained popular is "Rainbow's Cadillac". This one features Jerry Garcia on guitar. It's got a sort of funky rhythm, and is about one of Hornsby's favorite topics, street basketball. Like most of his songs, it's the rhythm that's catchy, not guitar riffs.
Hornsby has always drawn from some of the world's best musicians, and that goes for a thousandfold here. But it you didn't know they were on the album going in, you might not have noticed. The parade of guest stars is allowed to do what they want, not what they are expected to do. Collins isn't trust into the lead singer role, he's allowed to play percussions and backing vocals; Garcia isn't restricted to a brief solo to fit into a three and a half minute song, he can let the solo take him wherever he wants it to go. This is not necessarily for everyone, those looking for the pop singles of "The Way It Is" will be disappointed, as this is a very different style of music. Those willing to do some musical exploration, however, will be rewarded. "Harbor Lights" contains songs that touch on many different genres, including jazz, country, rock, jam and more. Hornsby's best is yet to come, but this was an excellent step forward in his journey.