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Pop Music Review : The Mirages Of Hornsby And The Range

September 25, 1986|CHRIS WILLMAN

Despite having a backup group named the Range--and song titles like "On the Western Skyline" and "The Wild Frontier"--there's next to nothing that's country-Western about Bruce Hornsby, who made his local debut Tuesday at the Roxy.

That's one possible misconception out of the way. Another red herring might be the implication that Hornsby is among the new breed of rock 'n' rollers dishing out hard-boiled Americana--when in fact a good deal of his pop leans toward the subdued and sophisticated side. His on-stage presence behind the piano (or occasionally the accordion) is decidedly affable and low-key, and, in general, the steelworker type he isn't.

When he announced, "We're gonna slow it down a little here" and launched into a windy, Windham Hill-suited piano solo a scant 20 minutes into the set--it wasn't as if the show was already at a fever pitch. Though Hornsby and the Range are finding some success with album-rock radio formats, the frequency of softer, keyboard-centered material indicates that eventually the group's appeal may lie more with the middle-of-the-road rock crowd.

And that's nothing to be ashamed of. An infusion of more bands like this one would certainly make "adult contemporary" radio much less of a wasteland. For someone with such mainstream appeal, Hornsby presents some fairly challenging material.

He's more subversive than he looks. How many people are aware that his lovely and breezy single, "The Way It Is," is a pro-welfare-policies, anti-Reagan-era statement? Or that the catchy encore number, "Down the Road Tonight," is an ironic tale of a house of ill repute? You have to keep an eye on these nice-guy types.

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