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Digital Subscriptions > Classic Pop > Nov 2019 > Keys to the World

Keys to the World

As Bruce Hornsby returns to the UK on a wave of renewed acclaim, the piano man tells Douglas McPherson about his constant quest to evolve and how he has a hard time listening to his early albums

Bruce Hornsby is having a moment right now. A mere 33 years after he came to fame with the unforgettable piano-led social consciencepricking ballad The Way It Is, the Virginian singersongwriter has been receiving some of his best-ever reviews for his latest album, Absolute Zero.

In particular, Hornsby has acquired a new cachet with the hipsters, thanks to his association with Justin Vernon, aka the Grammy-winning Bon Iver.

Vernon initially displayed his fondness for Bruce’s music on Beth/Rest, an unmistakable homage to the Hornsby sound that he described as the track he was most proud of on Bon Iver’s self-titled second album. On Absolute Zero he teamed up with his idol to co-write and sing on current single Cast-Off.

Hornsby fi rst became aware of Vernon via Google Alerts. “In 2011 or 2012 I started getting these alerts about Bon Iver and Justin Vernon. He was shouting my name out as someone who’d infl uenced him as a young musician. I started investigating and the fi rst Bon Iver song I heard was Holocene. I just loved it. I thought it was gorgeous, interesting and unique-sounding.

“I became a fan. Then, in 2015, Justin reached out to me through our managers and asked if I’d do a duet with him on a massive 5-CD indie rock Grateful Dead tribute record, Day Of The Dead, curated by The National. Justin had always been a fan of my album Here Come The Noise Makers from 2000. He liked the version of the Grateful Dead song Black Muddy River and wanted to do it as a duet with me.

“It was an instant ‘yes’ from me,” Hornsby continues. “I was doing a solo piano tour that ran through the state of Iowa and my last gig of the run was in Mason City, which is about three hours away from where Justin lives in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. I went up there and spent two days hanging out.” Hornsby then invited Vernon to sing on his 2016 album Rehab Reunion, a folkoriented outing on which Bruce swapped his trademark piano for a dulcimer.

Next, “Justin asked me to play his beautiful Eaux Claire Music And Arts Festival, and to appear at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in California with him.” With typically wry self-deprecation, Hornsby adds: “I was the grandpa on the bill – probably by 25 years the oldest motherfucker on the stage!” Since then, the pair have continued to collaborate, with Hornsby co-writing U (Man Like) on the just-released Bon Iver album, i,i.

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About Classic Pop

In the latest issue, we have an exclusive interview with synth pioneers Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark as they celebrate 40 years of marrying art with pop. Elsewhere, we welcome back Simply Red – Mick Hucknall talks us through new album Blue Eyed Soul and Classic Pop speaks to Prince’s inner circle as the Purple One’s wonderful 1999 LP gets a revelatory boxset treatment. Our classic album this month is Peter Gabriel’s iconic So, the perfect union of pop and World music that made the former Genesis frontman a global star. There’s a dash of Acid Jazz funkiness as we meet Incognito and The Brand New Heavies plus we hear from Bruce Hornsby about how Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon has given him some latter-day hipster cachet. We take an in-depth look at the solo back catalogue of George Michael in our Album By Album feature and also hear from Midge Ure about his 1980 Tour and brand new career retrospective compilation. In our extensive reviews section, we put new albums from the likes of A-ha’s Magne Furuholmen, Anna Of The North, Alphabeat, The Wonder Stuff and David Hasselhoff under the microscope and there’s a bumper crop of reissues including that huge Prince boxset, Rick Astley, The Police, Sparks, David Bowie, Simple Minds, Factory Records and much more. Our books special includes reviews of Prince’s autobiography The Beautiful Ones, Andrew Ridgeley’s George & Me plus Debbie Harry’s Face It and more. For live reviews, we head to Hyde Park for Radio 2’s Festival In A Day – headlined by Pet Shop Boys – and elbow our way down the front for shows by xPropaganda/D:uel, Tanita Tikaram, The International Teachers Of Pop and Morten Harket.