By mid-March 2020 Bruce Hornsby, in that now historical year, had completed a brief tour of five concerts. “Then all of a sudden, wham!” Hornsby remembers, “Everything shut down.” With Non-Secure Connection to release in summer, Hornsby began promoting the album. “So that was fine,” he says, following with an innocent refrain that would become spooky that pre-spring among active musicians globally: “But our tours got postponed or cancelled.”

’Flicted, the album Hornsby then began to create, marks the conclusion of what Hornsby calls a trilogy, inaugurated with the lauded Absolute Zero (2019,) in which the native and longtime resident of Williamsburg, Virginia intermingles his diverse musical passions, recording not exactly a self-invented genre but a world of vibrant sound and text all Hornsby’s own. The twelve songs that comprise ’Flicted take their starting points from soundtrack scoring, the visuals-linked area of music composition with a distinguished history. Inexorably at home, Hornsby investigated again the “cues” he had written for the director Spike Lee, with whom Hornsby has worked since 1990. These abbreviated instrumental score passages had sparked song creation on his two previous albums.

“I was stuck in my house,” Hornsby says, “so I gathered up some cues I hadn’t used on Absolute Zero and Non-Secure Connection. Additionally, he considered closely a riff he had asked a collaborator from Absolute Zero – Blake Mills, a Los Angeles songwriter-producer and, as Hornsby describes him, “sprung-from-Zeus guitarist” – to record. “Blake gave me,” Hornsby says, “about a minute-and-a-half of this little thing.” For the final installment of his trilogy, Bruce Hornsby was off to the races.

And yet, the 2020 routes of the ’Flicted songs were less determined by European and American 20th -century modern classical composition than by the fleet ear-bud zings and danceable grooves of 21st-century high-speed rail: This is a Bruce Hornsby album informed by the lucid atonal challenges and serialist-dissonant flows of its two predecessors but significantly more pop. Produced by Tony Berg, who adds his sense of 1960s Los Angeles studio rock to the mix, and Hornsby, the broad impression ’Flicted builds is not divorced from the formally advanced “electric pop” of, say, a heavily streamed Taylor Swift-Zayn Malik duet. This is bold.

The contributions on these songs, moreover, made by yMusic, the Brooklyn chamber sextet co-founded by violinist Rob Moose, heightens the command of energy, substance, and rhythm this Hornsby music wields. Rhythm especially: “James Brown,” Hornsby says, citing the instrumental and professional rigor famously, mercilessly enforced in bands led by one of the surest geniuses of any music anywhere, “would not fire yMusic.” This is modern sound not as voiced by Silicon Valley’s lushest tech but rather the blood and flesh and heart of top-flight in-studio playing immemorial.

Hornsby casts ’Flicted, as he did the new album’s two predecessors, with the incisiveness Quincy Jones exercised on his own solo albums, always recorded with various singers, musicians, and other creative and technical collaborators. Throughout his long career – begun with his international hit “The Way It Is,” whose romantic Steinway ecstasies the late rapper Tupac Shakur sampled on his track “Changes,” anticipating the current era of The Song v. The Album in recorded pop – Hornsby’s engaging tenor has proceeded consistently. Without employing the idiosyncrasies of Bob Dylan or Neil Young, it travels its own singer-songwriter way, elevating ruminations on Appalachian cultures or addressing urban literary and scientific research with an everyday unruffled ease.

Other singers on ’Flicted include Ezra Koenig, of New York’s Vampire Weekend; Danielle Haim, lead singer of LA pop-rockers Haim; Ethan Gruska, the Hollywood artist, composer, producer, and member of several West coast indie bands; and Z. Berg, formerly of the LA band The Like.

Recently Hornsby and Chip deMatteo, Williamsburg natives, friends and co-writers since kindergarten, spoke about the songs on ’Flicted. DeMatteo, a lyricist, writes with the concentrated dramatic force of the canniest theater writers when providing texts for Hornsby’s musical compositions. “Days Ahead,” the third release from the new album, focuses on the complex interlocking observations and anxieties of anticipating periods of some real duration closed away from others, separate and apart from routine daily conduct.

“The narrator,” deMatteo says, “dreads the accumulation of the coming weeks, the uncertainty of knowing just how their potentially suffocating natures may unfold, what will happen.” Following that lay the immediate futures of those time periods: “And then the knowing,” deMatteo says, “that going outside as before only mirrors the same concerns.” The text offers a terrifically concise, devastating portrait of the often-warring emotions in the pandemic.

Hornsby began his own comments with “Sidelines,” which opens ’Flicted, continuing in sequence.



This is the first song I wrote, from the minute-and-a-half bit Blake recorded. It’s a song about hysteria in various forms, starting with the Salem witch trials of the 1600s, moving into a dystopian scene inspired by Don Delillo’s great novel “Underworld,” where someone is driving and passing road signs, and having the signs become reality in his or her mind as he or she moves along. That’s the first two verses. The third references the pandemic era. The song features angular melodic content, which comes from the classical world, and a pointillistic instrumental section. Ezra Koenig sings seamlessly with me.

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This song also has a bit of lyrical inspiration from the same Delillo novel. It has Bruce H. McGuinn playing twelve-string Rickenbacker. It’s a song about a serious narcissist who is humbled by circumstances he can’t control – in this case, again, the pandemic. It is not stated, however. I refer to it as “Pestilence Takes Its Turn.” As to the subject matter here, I’m obeying Nina Simone’s edict that the artist must reflect their times.


This has a string quartet where I told them just to play all effects – you know, violin effects like pizzicatos and glissandos that color the whole song. The songwriting content definitely is coming from the minimalism of the Julia Wolfe, Bang On A Can crowd. It features Ethan Gruska on celeste.


This is the first time I have put a cover on a studio record, but it’s turned inside out – it happened years ago – by Leon Russell. He and Elton John were my boyhood piano heroes.


These two songs form the EDM corner of the album’s sequence. I love Frederic Rzewski. He wrote a piece called “Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues,” basically using the piano to sound like an industrial plant. I always wanted to do something with that feeling. I wrote a cue “Factory Dance” which dealt with my version of what I call “industrial machine piano.” That’s all through “Maybe Now.” It is noisy on the lower end of the piano a few times. It’s my homage to Rzewski. With “Bucket List” I play my scratchy-ass fiddle stylings. It sounds like some old Roscoe Holcomb type records to me.


AAfter the three jamming songs before it, I offer this as a palate cleanser; the sequence here needs a breath. The intro, like the string part afterward, that’s minimalist, Philip Glass-ian. I love Danielle’s vocal part and Rob’s in the intro as well – it keeps coming back here, as well as throughout the song. When Tony heard the song, he instantly heard it as Brian Wilson-esque. Tony was an apprentice for producer Jack Nitzsche in the 1960s. He had fun ideas for this, and I love all the production flourishes, the Sixties Wrecking Crew pop aesthetic.


This is a science song: it’s about light depiction and ranging, where archeologists are, for instance, allowed to see through dense forests, dense wooded areas, into things buried. I used it as an analogy in this love-gone-wrong relationship song, uncovering hidden clues, showing what the couple in the song didn’t do right, locking in the lidar, scanning in 3-D. Dulcimer folk meets modern pop, seems to me, here. Tony’s love of vintage instruments added flavor.


This is my version of what Dylan called his “wild mercury sound” of the mid-Sixties, an era that Dylanophiles lionize and deify. It uses dulcimer and electric sitar, with yMusic showing up two-thirds of the way in glorious fashion, just to change the feeling.


This song protests inaction and indifference in the face of wrongdoing. Musically it’s yMusic and some modern, minimalist classical influences.


The first “Simple Prayer” was on the “Levitate” album from 2009 . This sequel features two great singers: Z. Berg and Ethan Gruska.


Originally this was written for Absolute Zero. It features Jack DeJohnette playing with a string orchestra. This song felt like the fitting final piece to close the trilogy, bookending with its spiritual and textural cousin, the first song on the first record. It’s a rumination on string theory, theology, ornithology and the invisible forces that rule our existence.

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