Bruce Hornsby and friends shine in 'Harbor Lights'



Bruce Hornsby (RCA 66230)

Whenever a pop artist leaves lots of soloing space in a song, it's usually because the melody doesn't have enough strength to stand on its own. So how is it that Bruce Hornsby's "Harbor Lights" boasts first-rate songwriting as well as exciting improvisational sections? Credit some of it to the company he keeps, as Hornsby trades licks with the likes of Branford Marsalis, Pat Metheny and Jerry Garcia (all of whom are expertly spurred on by drummer John Molo and bassist Jimmy Haslip). But mostly, it's that the solos help Hornsby focus on the spirit of these songs, from the jazzy swagger of "Long Tall Cool One" to the Keith Jarrett-style spin of "What a Time." All of which makes this his most exhilarating album to date.


Suede (Nude/Columbia 53792)

Given the English music press' predilection for warrantless hype, it might be tempting for American fans to look askance at Suede -- a group that had been declared the best band in Britain before it had released so much as a single. But the best reason to believe the hype is "Suede" itself. Although Suede's glam-derived sound and sexually ambiguous stage show has earned comparisons with both early Bowie and classic Smiths, the group's greatest strengths are strictly melodic, thanks to the consistently tuneful interplay between Brett Anderson's voice and Bernard Butler's guitar. As such, it's impossible to come away from the album without humming snatches of the slow-and-dreamy "Sleeping Pills," the dark, punchy "The Drowners," or the intoxicatingly catchy "Animal Nitrate."


Levert (Atlantic 82462)

Why is it that the only link many new jack swingers have with R&B;'s past are the samples woven into the beat? No matter how enthusiastically these singers wail and moan, most rarely connect their vocal calisthenics to the groove. Fortunately, Levert has no such problem. Soul singing is in this crew's blood (no surprise, given that Gerald and Sean are the sons of the O'Jays' Eddie Levert), and their bone-deep appreciation of the style comes through loud and clear on "For Real Tho'." Gerald Levert's lead vocals don't just underscore the music's emotional content; they also reinforce the rhythm. And that's as true of slow-burning love songs like "Do the Thangs" and "ABC-123" as it is of funk-fests like "Clap Your Hands" or "Good Ol' Days."


Sugar (Ryko 50260)

Sugar's "Copper Blue" was an instant favorite with the alternative rock fans, who fell head-over-heels for its blend of deliciously melodic writing and uncompromisingly aggressive guitar work. But "Beaster," the band's new mini-album, is nowhere near as sweet as its predecessor. Although the sound is just as densely propulsive -- check the vertiginous rave-up that sparks "Tilted," or the swirling, synth-studded pulse beneath "Feeling Better" -- the mood is far darker, as songwriter Bob Mould undercuts his pop instincts with lyrics that brood morosely over bad faith and soured relationships. It's not an easy album to love, but anyone willing to spend some time with its tangle of emotions will appreciate the music's redemptive qualities.

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