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Product Details

  • Audio CD (September 15, 2009)
  • Original Release Date: 2009
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Verve
  • ASIN: B002A4Q5ZI
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #169,671 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

1. The Black Rats of London
2. Prairie Dog Town
3. Cyclone
4. Continents Drift
5. Paperboy
6. Invisible
7. Levitate
8. Here We Are Again
9. Space is the Place
10. Michael Raphael
11. Simple Prayer
12. In the Low Country

Editorial Reviews

Product Description

2009 album from the singer, songwriter and pianist, his first studio recording in five years. Following a critically acclaimed box-set, a duet recording with Ricky Scaggs and a Jazz trio album with Christian McBride and Jack DeJohnette, Hornsby returns to the format that has brought his greatest commercial success. Accompanied by his seasoned touring band, the Noisemakers, Hornsby's stellar new songs are presented in dynamic arrangements with his signature blend of Rock, Country, Pop and Jazz and featuring some of the finest vocal performances of Bruce's illustrious career.

About the Artist

"When I play music, I guess I'm what you'd call an ecstatic," says Bruce Hornsby. "I'm always pursuing those joyful, exuberant, transcendent moments that happen when everything is working. That's why I called this album Levitate, because that's what those moments feel like."

By any standard, Bruce Hornsby has built one of the most diverse and adventurous careers in contemporary music. Drawing from a vast wellspring of American musical traditions, the singer/pianist/composer/bandleader has created a large and remarkably accomplished body of work that's employed a vast array of stylistic approaches, while maintaining the integrity, virtuosity and artistic curiosity that have been hallmarks of his work from the start.

The 13-time Grammy nominee's multifarious talents and far-ranging musical interests are prominent on Levitate, which marks the artist's Verve debut. The album's 13 songs span an expansive sonic and emotional palette, encompassing heartfelt insights and absurdist humor, while incorporating a broad assortment of influences within compact song structures. The material ranges from the expansive, expressive songcraft of "Prairie Dog Town" and "In the Low Country" to the gently reflective introspection of "Invisible" and "Here We Are Again," with the album-opening "The Black Rats of London" offering a swaggering treatise on the influence of the rodents, insects and microbes upon key historical events. Such colorful moments help make Levitate a consistently compelling evocation of Hornsby's established abilities, as well as a substantial creative departure.

"I've always been about finding a place to express my interest in playing the piano within the pop song context," Hornsby explains. "But with this record, I felt like I'd done that enough, so this time I really wanted the focus to be on the songs. This record actually has a couple of songs that are under three minutes, which is kind of unprecedented for me.

"It's also my first record with no piano solos," he adds. "I tend to write long, lyric-intensive songs, and I also like to blow. But this time I thought, I've done that, and I really want to make this record more about the writing."

Beyond its distinctive musical approach, Levitate features the vibrant balance of sincerity and silliness that's long been a hallmark of Hornsby's songwriting. "As I get older, I tend to gravitate in my writing more and more toward the humorous," he says. "For years, I was sort of well known for writing love songs, but I stopped doing that a long time ago, because it's just not what I'm interested in now. But for Levitate, I actually wrote a love song, 'Here We Are Again'--although it's a time-travel fantasy love song using the language of physics, it resonated for me as an interesting angle lyrically."

Levitate also demonstrates Hornsby's knack for provocative songwriting collaborations. For instance, "Cyclone" features resonant wordplay courtesy of legendary Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter. The album's title track, meanwhile, finds Hornsby writing a haunting lyric around a theme originally written by soundtrack composer Thomas Newman for The Shawshank Redemption. And "Paperboy" and "Michael Raphael," both co-written by Hornsby and lifelong friend Chip deMatteo, draw upon Hornsby's longstanding fascination with the language of modern classical music.

The album is the first Hornsby release co-credited to his longstanding touring band the Noisemakers, an appropriately eclectic outfit that includes bassist J.V. Collier, guitarist Doug Derryberry, drummer Sonny Emory, reeds player Bobby Read and keyboardist John "J.T." Thomas.

"This particular lineup has been together since '02, but J.T. has been with me for nineteen years, Bobby for sixteen, and JV has been here for fifteen, so I've got a lot of history with these guys," Hornsby states. "The players come from disparate backgrounds and all bring something different to the table, but we're all on the same page in our pursuit of a joyful noise. Playing with these guys consistently pushes me to improve, vocally and pianistically."

Levitate (which Hornsby co-produced with studio vet Tony Berg) also features guest appearances by Eric Clapton on "Space Is the Place" and fiddler Andy Leftwitch, a longtime mainstay of Ricky Skaggs' band, on "The Black Rats of London."

The album is dedicated to the memory of Hornsby's talented nephew R.S. Hornsby, who frequently performed with Bruce as guest guitarist, and who was killed in a car accident six days after recording a memorable solo on "Continents Drift."

"That's been, of course, so difficult for our family," notes Hornsby. "But I love the fact that this beautiful, long solo that R.S. played can serve as his last testament. He was a beautiful player; he really had the gift. He played with a lot of soul, a lot of feeling."

Although Levitate marks a departure for Hornsby in many respects, it displays the same creative iconoclasm that's been a constant in the artist's two-and-a-half decade recording career. His commercial stock soared early on, when "The Way It Is"--the title track of Bruce Hornsby and the Range's 1986 debut album--became the most-played song on American radio in 1987, winning ASCAP's Song of the Year award. "The Way It Is" and such subsequent hits as "Mandolin Rain" and "Every Little Kiss," established Hornsby as popular pop act, while high-profile work with the likes of Don Henley, and Huey Lewis made him an in-demand collaborator.

Despite his early successes, Hornsby chose to pursue a more personal, idiosyncratic musical path, focusing on projects that sparked his creative interest and musical progress. That direction was manifested in his lengthy association with the Grateful Dead, with whom he's performed more than 100 concerts as guest keyboardist. His work with the Dead encouraged Hornsby to incorporate his interest in musical improvisation into his own performances, while his eclectic musical interests have been reflected in a wide array of recording projects. Over the years, Hornsby has successfully ventured into jazz, classical, bluegrass and even electronica, as reflected by such acclaimed recent releases as the bluegrass project Ricky Skaggs and Bruce Hornsby and the jazz trio album Camp Meeting, with Jack deJohnette and Christian McBride. The prestigious list of Hornsby collaborators now includes such diverse figures as Ornette Coleman, Bob Dylan, Bela Fleck, Charlie Haden, Bonnie Raitt, Elton John, Branford Marsalis, Pat Metheny, Robbie Robertson, Leon Russell, Chaka Khan, Wayne Shorter, Squeeze, Tupac Shakur and Sting.

"I guess I'm a bit of a musical proselytizer," says Hornsby. "I'm always hoping to turn the audience on to more adventurous music and music that's below the mainstream radar. I know that that may seem too pretentious to the rock and pop world. But for me it's all just beautiful music, and people seem willing to come along with me on the journey."

Indeed, Hornsby's musical adventures have won him an extraordinarily devoted and open-minded fan base, which has enthusiastically supported his varied musical output. "For a good two or three years in the mid-'90s, I hardly played any of my hits on stage, and people thought I was committing career suicide," he recalls. "But for me, it was about getting people to understand that if you're here for a stroll down memory lane, then I'm not your guy. And gradually, I was able to sort of flip my crowd, and acquire an audience that's there to hear us be adventurous."

Indeed, Bruce Hornsby's restless musical spirit continues to spontaneously push him forward into exciting new musical pursuits. He's currently working with Chicago director Kathleen Marshall on a prospective Broadway musical titled SCKBSTD (many of the new lp's songs are from this project). He's composed and recorded several soundtrack projects for filmmaker Spike Lee, most recently writing and recording the score for Kobe Doin' Work, Lee's ESPN documentary on Kobe Bryant. Hornsby is also featured onscreen in the new Robin Williams/Bobcat Goldthwait film World's Greatest Dad. That film features lots of Hornsby music, including the Levitate track "Invisible."

Hornsby's deep grounding in American roots music recently led him to return to his alma mater, the University of Miami, to launch the Creative American Music Program. The new program develops the creative skills of young songwriters by immersing them in the multiple musical traditions--including folk, old-time traditional music, blues, gospel and bluegrass--that are the foundation of modern American songwriting.

Such projects are consistent with the same lifelong pursuit of musical transcendence that helps to animate Levitate. "To me," says Hornsby, "it's always just been about broadening my reach and moving into new areas. So it's a fantastic situation to be able to do that, and to continue to pursue a wide-ranging musical life."

Customer Reviews

Some great arrangements and bass lines.
It's almost like he's saying, yeah, I really stretched on the bulk of the album, but I want to show that I still have my fastball and can write and play a good song.
I am a HUGE Bruce Hornsby fan & I have to say I was sorely disappointed on this one!
Evil Queen Jeanne

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By T. Cole on September 15, 2009
Format: Audio CD
Bruce and the Noisemaker's newest disc, Levitate, is a very solid cut that seems to incorporate the adventurism of 2002's "Big Swing Face" with the more mainstream sound of 2005's "Halcyon Days" and continues the band's tradition of strong songwriting. Ever evolving as an artist, Hornsby's albums all have a distinct sound from the preceeding one, and even between album songs themselves. (This attribute may alienate some fans of radio tracks, but it keeps Bruce and the band relevant to the world, and treasured by fans craving music inspired by the ear rather than the focus group, and makes each live show an unforgettable, near religious experience.)

"Levitate" is no different. Bruce's signature lyrics that span between cringing and inspirational. 'Prarie Dog Town' is the most catchy song on the disc, but 'Black rats'. 'Cyclone', 'Continents Drift', 'Here we go again' will have you wearing out the repeat button on your player. Most importantly, the entire disc just seems to work as a whole album if you listen to it a few times. In these days of a la carte song marketing, this is a rare feat.
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22 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Jason Stein VINE VOICE on September 25, 2009
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
Normally I give Bruce four or five stars per album, but "Levitate" is the first album of his (well, second, along with 2002's "Big Swing Face") that I just can't give that many stars. I liked "Levitate" as a whole, but only half the album really grabbed me. I will always give Bruce five stars for experimentation, originality, innovation, and pushing his audience to broaden their horizons. To me, that makes a great, legendary artist. Yes, legendary, because, in my not so humble opinion, Hornsby smacks down Elton John and Billy Joel as far as popular pianists goes (and I like John and Joel, mind you).

"Levitate" starts off great with the pestilence history lesson of "The Black Rats Of London". It stomps its way into your brain with infectious drum patterns and 'hoorah, hooray' for the black rats of London. But it's "Prairie Dog Town" that really shines here. Not afraid to rap it and hip hop it with the help of Snoop Dogg and The Neptunes, Hornsby shows he is truly fearless (and humorous as well). After the furry critters comes "Cyclone". I tried to like this song about virility and youth as one ages, but musically it did not strike a chord with me. However, "Continents Drift" is as beautiful a metaphor for a long loved relationship as anything he has written. "Paperboy" is just weird. About a serial killer perhaps? It sounds like a Steely Dan leftover, and musically it just didn't fit for me. "Invisible" is a great 'ignoring stupid people' song with a catchy beat and melody line.

The title track, "Levitate" is another great 'stand up to challenges to be successful' song from Hornsby. And then things fall apart. "Here We Are Again" is just okay, nothing special. The worst track here is by far "Space Is The Place"--this just might be my least favorite Hornsby track of all time.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By David R. Seid on September 17, 2009
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
Speaking as more of a fan of the "old" Bruce Hornsby (the Spirit Trail and earlier releases), I have been disappointed in many of his more recent ventures. As such, I ordered "Levitate" with great hesitation. While I have to admit that many of the tracks that others have mentioned being the standouts were not as much so for me, I *loved* the title track, and also found tracks like "In the Low Country," "Invisible" and "Prairie Dog Town" to be rather catchy. It is nice to see Bruce et al return to fine form on most of the album. While there were some less than stellar tracks, I think on the whole this fan is a happy camper.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By J. Read on September 26, 2009
Format: Audio CD
For the first time, on this album Bruce Hornsby (and The Noisemakers) have blended all the themes of previous albums - the rock, the funk, the soaring ballads, the challenging jazz themes, even the hints of Celtic folk styles - into one visionary set. It is not that easy - you will need to use your brain to listen to it - but if you do, this journey with Hornsby gives a new vista at every turn and will enrich your Fall 2009. If you need help getting into it, start with 'Space if the Place' (track #9) - and turn the volume up up up.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Bryan M. Tucker on January 27, 2010
Format: Audio CD
I have follwed the brilliant career of this man since High School. His first album came out when I was in 11th grade. I remember he was up against Glass Tiger for best new artist of the year. This slob of a girl told me no way was Hornsby going to beat out Glass Tiger. I'm quite sure she ate herself to death at some point later on while Hornsby has gone on to be respected in the musical industry like not too many other people. When he changed his style, which to me was after Harbor Lights, it took a long time for me to get used to it. Swing Face was the first CD I struggled to love, and still do though it has it's moments.

I liked Levitate immediately. I am surprised at some of the negative reviews I have read. It's those that liked the last 2 releases and did not dig this one that baffle me. It's very much in the same vein but has a little more variety to it.
I believe someone was offended by the serial killer aspects of paper boy. Why? He has always been a quirky lyricist. The ONLY thing that irrates the hell out of me is his boys rapping on Space is the Place. Rednecks (and I mean that with the upmost respect) should not rap. I'd rather no one did but especially southern boys.

long story short, if you have found something enjoyable in most of his work, this one should provide the same. I think this is a fun and well written/performed piece of work and just adds to my admiration for Bruce.

The man is most likely a musical genious of some sort, damn it.
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