Bruce Hornsby and the Range: Scenes from the Southside

May 3, 1982 – Bruce Hornsby and the Range: Scenes from the Southside is released.
# allmusic 4.5/5
# Rolling Stone (see original review below)
Scenes from the Southside is the second album by Bruce Hornsby and the Range. The single “The Valley Road” was Hornsby’s third (and last) Top 10 U.S. hit, peaking at number five on the Billboard Hot 100, and also his first number one on the Billboard Album Rock Tracks chart. It became his third chart-topper on the Billboard adult contemporary chart, following “The Way It Is” and “Mandolin Rain”. Two other notable tracks on the record were “The Show Goes On”, which was featured in Ron Howard’s 1991 film Backdraft, and “Jacob’s Ladder”, which was written by Bruce and John Hornsby, but is most well known as being a number-one hit for Huey Lewis and the News in March 1987.
Sometimes a wildly successful debut album – like The Way It Is, by Bruce Hornsby and the Range – can be a curse for a rock band. Suddenly faced with the pressure of recapturing the commercial magic while not repeating themselves musically, many bands find their songwriting stunted or lose their focus altogether the second time out.
Rather than merely echo the promise of The Way It Is, Scenes from the Southside, this band’s sophomore effort, fulfills it. Hornsby – the man who singlehandedly reestablished the grand piano as a viable rock instrument in the otherwise synthesized Eighties – fleshes out his keyboard runs. At the same time, the members of the Range manage to achieve what just barely eluded them on The Way It Is: the right mix of rock, country and jazz.
As lyricists, Bruce and his brother John have grown from journalists into historians – many of the songs could apply as easily to the Reconstruction era of the 1860s and 1870s as to the impoverished South of the 1980s. And producer Neil Dorfsman, who has worked with Dire Straits and Sting, keeps it all sounding modern while never losing sight of the fact that this band is steeped in tradition.
What comes out is music that is often breathtaking and a social vision that’s nearly always disturbing. Hornsby stays at the center of it but never hogs the spotlight, his eloquent single notes alternating with sharp, sometimes jagged chords. As much of a virtuoso as he is, Hornsby shows how integrated he and the band are by the fact that he can, and does, turn up anywhere in the songs – in a long meditative introduction, in a sprinting riff that keeps things moving or in an extended summation at the close of a case the band has already pleaded, as in “The Valley Road.” Though his piano gives way completely to his synthesizers by the end of side two, they too remain a function of the song and not its primary purpose.
The Range shows off some angry blues chops on “Defenders of the Flag,” and the spark of Chuck Berry on “The Valley Road” disguises the pathetic, timeless situation depicted in the lyrics: a farmhand impregnates the boss’s daughter, but he is only “good enough to hire/Not good enough to marry.” Hornsby’s guttural voice laments but never whines, suggesting that the situation is futile, that there are forces involved that are larger than these particular protagonists.
What places the Hornsbys’ social commentary in a broader historical context than the straightforward epigrams of Springsteen and Mellencamp is Bruce Hornsby’s ability to show how deep the problems lie: “You wonder how it happened/They just picked it up from dad,” he sings in “Defenders of the Flag,” a swipe at corruption in politics and religion.
Yet in spite of the arid landscape of their songs, which is filled with honest people who get put down and beat up, Bruce Hornsby and the Range leave open the possibility for personal integrity. They did as much when they sang, “That’s just the way it is, but don’t you believe them.” But on Scenes from the Southside, their hope runs longer than a tag line. In the album’s closer. “Till the Dreaming’s Done,” Hornsby finally finds true love, the kind that doesn’t make the world go away but instead makes the struggle to change it worthwhile.
On Scenes from the Southside the answers don’t come easy, if they come at all, but that’s what makes it a challenging second album from a band that’s proved itself to be more than just a platinum flash in the pan. (RS 529)
~ ROB HOERBURGER (June 30, 1988)
All songs written by Bruce Hornsby and John Hornsby, except where noted.                                      
1              Look Out Any Window 5:28
2              The Valley Road 4:43
3              I Will Walk with You 4:36
4              The Road Not Taken (Bruce Hornsby) 7:07
5              The Show Goes On (Bruce Hornsby) 7:30
6              The Old Playground 4:27
7              Defenders of the Flag 4:28
8              Jacob’s Ladder 4:37
9              Till the Dreaming’s Done (Bruce Hornsby)5:12

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