A new album, a new label, a Broadway play and a cameo in a Robin Williams film are keeping multi-Grammy winning artist Bruce Hornsby busy for 2009.
"Levitate," Hornsby's 12-song set, is slated for a September 15 release via Verve and finds the multi-instrumentalist collaborating with his band the Noisemakers on their first recordings together since 2004's "Halcyon Days." Eric Clapton guests on the song "Space is the Place," and Deadheads will relish in the song "Cyclone," on which Hornsby worked with long-time Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter.
Hornsby says the material on "Levitate" was actually born after he received an unexpected letter in 2005 from Playwrights Horizons, which was convinced that three tunes from "Halcyon Days" -- "What The Hell Happened," "Hooray For Tom," and "Heir Gordon" -- sounded like Broadway tunes. "They were writing the letter to try and commission me to write a play," Hornsby tells Billboard.com. "So I said to them, "what the hell, I'll give it a try, as long as its fun." Hornsby has since been working on a musical called "SCKBSTD," and he says that fully eight of the new album's twelve songs are from the show.
While Hornsby's song catalog has always run the gamut in terms of genres, he says, "I feel a freedom when I'm writing for the theater. A couple of the songs that I'm most proud of are 'Paperboy' and 'Michael Raphael' because they are dealing with harmony in a more adventurous, advanced way than on the standard pop song. This album is six guys in a room playing quasi-Broadway music."
Over the last several years, Hornsby has been quite active in other recording realms, trying his hand at bluegrass and jazz. He released a self-titled collaboration with Ricky Skaggs in 2007 as well as "Camp Meeting," a trio record with Christian McBride and Jack DeJohnette. "I felt like with those I finally dealt on a more intense level with making a bluegrass record and a jazz record," says Hornsby. "This record is a reaction to having made those two albums, which are really about virtuosity on the instruments. I felt like, 'Okay, let's have this have no virtuosity and no solos -- at least none from me.' "
Hornsby says that there are 17 songs penned for "SCKBSTD," but there's no set timetable for when the album will be done. "I'm just letting it come naturally but I like the places it's taking us, songwriting-wise."
If that weren't enough, he'll make his film debut on August 21 with the release of "World's Greatest Dad," a film co-starring comedians Bobcat Goldthwait and Robin Williams. Hornsby plays himself and has two lines. "I was really pretty bad at it," he recalls. "I don't think my phone will be ringing off hook with offers to star with De Niro." And "Levitate" material shows up, too; Hornsby says his track "Invisible" is the "flagship song of that movie."
Despite the intricacies that led to "Levitate," Hornsby seems to appreciate getting back to the basics of studio recording. "Our attempt was a bunch of guys in a room playing," he says. "A lot of this record sounds just like that. It's a little old fashioned, but there's nothing wrong with that."
Here is the track list for "Levitate":
"The Black Rats of London"
"Prairie Dog Town"
"Here We Are Again"
"Space is the Place"
"In the Low Country"