Q (9/95, p.116) - 4 Stars - Excellent - "...Hornsby might have invented concerned adult pop. [HOT HOUSE is] stinging proof that he's still good at it..."
Musician (9/95, p.93) - "...the playing is the real focus here, and on that front Hornsby is dazzling. It isn't just his pianistic prowess that dazzles...; what makes the music sizzle is the way he inspires the other players..."
Personnel: Bruce Hornsby (piano, accordion, vocals); Chaka Khan, Debbie Henry Louis Price, Joe White (vocals); Randy Jacobs, Jerry Garcia, Pat Metheny (guitar); Bela Fleck (banjo); Bobby Read (alto & tenor saxophones); Glen Wilson (baritone saxophone); John D'Earth (trumpet); J.T. Thomas (organ); Jimmy Haslip, J.V. Collier (bass); John Molo (drums); Ornette Fogelbert (tambourine); Derwin "Stump" Cox, Larry "Egg" Sears (percussion); John Paris, Robert "Blue" Brookins (programming); David Hollister, Levi Little.
Recorded at Bruce Hornsby's House, Williamsburg, Virginia.
Long considered among the finest and most distinctive piano players in rock, Bruce Hornsby's resume expanded even further when in 1990 he joined the Grateful Dead. Though many scoffed at the move, such a union made perfect sense: Hornsby's playing had long patrolled similarly unspecific musical waters as the Dead, lodged between the avant jazz-pop universe and the diverse traditions of musical Americana. The aptly-titled HOT HOUSE is thoroughly situated at this crossroads of experimental and folk styles.
The album clearly taps into the musical and sociological energy that life in a counter-culture sideshow exposed Hornsby to. "Spider Fingers" plays on the nickname that Deadheads developed for his flurried, behind-the-beat soloing style. As the song explodes with a brass- and organ-driven funk, then rides that energy like a wave, it is clear the Dead's unadulterated jamming has rubbed off. "The Tango King" uses New Orleans' percussive groove and a melody straight out of "Estimated Prophet" to marvel at the festival-like atmospheres of musical gatherings, while the duel between Jerry Garcia's guitar and Hornsby's piano propels "Cruise Control" on a soulful ride.
But the most important lesson that Hornsby picked up from his association with the Dead was to follow his muse into whatever quirky corners it drags him. Thus, HOT HOUSE veers from the musicianly swagger of "The Changes," a tune about "tunes" that walks with the same confident stride as "Cool" from the WEST SIDE STORY soundtrack, to the outer-space bluegrass of "White Wheeled Limousine," which wouldn't seem out of place on a Bela Fleck album.
From the opening notes of "Spider Fingers," Hot House declares itself a jazzy showcase for Bruce Hornsby's piano skills, continuing further down the path started on Harbor Lights. Leaned more heavily toward the instrumental side of things, the album works better as a whole than as a collection of individual songs. Still, "White Wheeled Limousine" and "Country Doctor" show off Hornsby's gift for story weaving, and "Walk in the Sun" and "The Longest Night" rank among his best tracks. But Hot House is mostly about the overall vibe of the music, with lyrics taking a backseat in many cases. And that's just fine since the always technically proficient Hornsby has surrounded himself with other talented musicians like Béla Fleck, Pat Metheny, and Jimmy Haslip. There's an upbeat, loose feel to even the darker-edged songs, making this his most optimistic release to date. While Hot House is less personal and contains fewer individually memorable tracks than Hornsby's previous albums, it's still a great listen. ~ Skyler Miller