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Though he hangs with hip stoners like the Grateful Dead, Bruce Hornsby remains a loyal Virginia homeboy, always ready for another game of pickup basketball in the family driveway. In fact, he’s still based in his native Williamsburg—the squarest place on the planet—where he recorded Hot House, which could be easily subtitled “The Latest Comeback by a VH-1 Has-Been.” Hot House features Pat Metheny and Jerry Garcia, among other sidemen, but their tasteful contributions only reveal Hornsby as an aimless noodler when it’s his turn to solo. What has always been intriguing about Hornsby’s music is the odd combo of whimsically light keyboard tinkling (a sort of ongoing graduate thesis on the work of Vince “Peanuts” Guaraldi) and his bummed-out, even angry lyrics. On several songs here, he’s downright morose, as in “The Changes,” in which Hornsby’s brooding alienates an audience of philistines: “A girl with a nose ring said to me/She said where’s the joy in your delivery/I said maybe there’s not supposed to be any real joy here at all.” (A “pantsuit girl” and a “white girl in a dashiki” also incure the would-be avant-gardist’s wrath.) But unlike Hornsby’s 1986 hit jingle “The Way It Is,” there’s nothing catchy enough on Hot House to gain airplay—except on the jeep CD stereos of the most deluded subscribers of Musician magazine. That’s the Hornsby dilemma in a nutshell: too intellectual for the shag-dancing crowd of his homeland, and haplessly inept in his pretensions as a hepcat. At least Sting doesn’t forget to include pop hooks in his fake jazz.