By Jeff Maisey

Grammy-winning piano man Bruce Hornsby, known for his pop hits “The Way It Is” and “Mandolin Rain,” has a new collaboration project where he teamed with experimental chamber ensemble yMusic for a refreshing new album — “Deep Sea Vents.”

Pop artists such as Elvis Costello and the likes of bluegrass star Bela Fleck have delved into classical and World Music crossover efforts with reasonable artistic success. Hornsby’s is a gem. 

“This is something that grew organically,” said Hornsby by phone. “I heard them (yMusic) at a festival in 2018 and was floored by what I heard.”

Hornsby invited yMusic to perform at Funhouse Fest in Williamsburg, a 3-day event he programmed in collaboration with Virginia Arts Festival. 

Hornsby said the musical relationship evolved after the classical musicians played on his “Absolute Zero” recording, and then Covid hit. While the entertainment industry shuttered, Hornby and yMusic continued to work on music remotely.

With “Deep Sea Vents,” Bruce Hornsby literally deep dives and sets off on an otherworldly exploration of uncharted territory, discovering some unexpected, unusual beauty. 

“Wild Whaling Life,” the opening track, is considered the song of focus — the hit — that’s destined for radio play on eclectically programmed stations. The violins of yMusic replicate the calling sounds of whales and gulls, the movement of the music is as fluid as ocean currents, and floating on top — a memorable vocal melody. 

“It’s so funny you said violins sounding like whales,” Hornsby said during our conversation. “Of course, that’s also what I took.

“It was serendipitous,” he continued. “At the time, I was reading ‘Moby Dick.’ So that was in my head. The woodwinds and violins sounded like seagulls, and then as you say, whales. So I just thought I’m going to write this out of this book I’m reading. That’s how that happened.” 

“(My) Theory of Everything,” the album’s second song, is fascinating as the choice of note progressions veer off in most unexpected tangents, taking the listener’s ear off course. 

“We had written just two songs,” Hornsby said. “‘Deep Sea Vents,’ about the very strange occurrences way down deep in the ocean, and ‘Wild Whaling Life.’ This was pointing a way to me that this is becoming an aquatic themed record. I guess you could call ‘(My) Theory of Everything’ a scientist’s attempted barroom pickup song.” 

The fluidity of the music is heard throughout the album. On “The Wake of St. Brendan,” a track that fans of Celtic music might find a kindred spirit in, makes use of a wavering, ghostly vocal melody that gives the impression of a gurgling underwater octopus’ garden aurality. 

“That was just the feeling I had for the song,” said Hornsby. “To me it reminded me of old Tommy James records, you know, ‘Crimson and Clover.’” 

One song stands out as stylistically different on the album — “Deep Blue” — with its weaving of elements of funk, jazz, classical, and Indian (electric sitar played by Bruce Hornsby). 

“It’s know as a psychedelic instrument like used on ‘Paint It Black’ by the Rolling Stones,” Hornsby said of the electric sitar. “I had just bought it the year before and hadn’t used it yet. I brought it out for this. It was a real challenge to play both instruments (piano and electric sitar) and sing at the same time. I’m not quite doing it well yet during rehearsals for this tour.” 

Local music enthusiasts and fans of Bruce Hornsby are lucking out as the March 21 performance is one of just 15 on this springtime tour. 

Of the 10 new songs featured on the album, Bruce Hornsby and yMusic will perform eight along with several of Hornsby classics and tracks from his more recent recordings. 




March 21

Ferguson Center