When Bruce Hornsby cavorted with the Grateful Dead from 1990-92, he came to be known by the moniker “Spider Fingers” for his exploits on the keys. Hornsby’s musical legacy as a skilled pianist, lyricist, and vocalist grew out of piano arrangements that embraced both crisp, electronic production and the folksy storytelling traditions of the old South. Hornsby’s 2009 effort, Levitate, finds Spider Fingers’ piano rock in a compelling blend of samples and humming synths sandwiched between vintage keyboard movements and salty, nostalgic vocals moaning through a heartfelt primer on American myth. Beginning with “The Black Rats of London”, a revisionist retelling of the early American experience in Hornsby’s native Virginia and ending with the nostalgic final track, “In the Low Country”, the album crafts a portrait of the American landscape. Hornsby’s lyrics and twangy accompaniments tell a modern folk story rife with the essential American duality between injustice and prosperity.
Lively and at times dismal, the album levitates, so to speak, over a patchwork collection of Americana. The overarching narrative of Levitate is readily apparent in the album’s textures that resemble the contours of the modern American music landscape. A 21st century folk sensibility stems from a collection of tones that varies from a Neptunes/Snoop Dogg-derived drum sample on “Prairie Dog Town” to the smooth poppy edges of the title track to the Eric Clapton-assisted ensemble rock of “Space is the Place”. Ever the consummate performer and musician, the seasoned veteran Hornsby issues yet another fundamental album of well-aged and crafted rock.