Artist – Bruce Hornsby and the Range
Album – The Way It Is
Year – 1986
Genre – Piano Rock
Ah ballads. Ballads are an essential piece of any music fabric, and so I figured today we’d explore a great one. Bruce Hornsby and the Range’s “Mandolin Rain,” a fantastic love/loss song that showcases outstanding musicianship with heartfelt words and a killer hook that ties perfectly into the imagery of the song.
Hear that bright piano? That’s that trademark Hornsby sound. It really adds a distinctive flair to his songs, and you don’t hear a tone like that very often today. From here on in, you’re going to hear a lot of piano licks, riffs, and solos. Bruce Hornsby is a master at his instrument, and he likes to keep it interesting at every single point in the song. This particular intro is jazzy, but really hovers around one point to hold the center of the song.
Besides the incredible piano work, another standout is Hornsby’s voice. It’s clear and powerful, which is exactly what you want in a great ballad. Not to mention the melody in the verses is catchy as hell so as soon as he sings that opening line, you’re hooked. His sadness and longing capture you in the verses, but it’s in the choruses where Hornsby lets out his pain.
Listen to the mandolin rain
Listen to the music on the lake
Oh, listen to my heart break every time she runs away
Oh, listen to the banjo wind
A sad song drifting low
Listen to the tears roll
Down my face as she turns to go
When you can blend the experience of a moment and bring your audience to a time and place with you, and get them to feel the emotion of a moment with you, then man, you’ve got it. This chorus is so simply honest, but yet poetic enough to make it stand out. The beautiful words, mixed with Hornsby cranking it up ten notches as he brings on a roller coaster of highs and lows from start to finish is proof why this song (and chorus) is one of his best. You feel him bringing you back to those moments that changed his life, and you can sense every feeling he felt. It’s chill inducing to say the least.
The second verse is still catchy as all getout and is still good. However, I need to take some time out to highlight this section:
I’ll do my time
Oh, keeping you off my mind but there’s moments
That I find I’m not feeling so strong
Wow. If those words were any more honest and true, I’d call up Mr. Hornsby and ask him if he’s Abe Lincoln’s great grandson. Seriously, what songwriting that is. The truth is simple, but often hard to write.
There’s a neat little bridge section, but the real showstopper is Hornsby’s solo. It’s passionate and strong; played with conviction, but not overly flashy or showoff-ish. It does what it needs to do, and it hits you as each chord changes.
The third verse is one of my favorites, and so is the last chorus. The intensity just feels so much more palpable at the end, and the whole song just comes to a head. There’s some great vocal jumps and more awesome piano time until the fade out ending (with mandolin included!) Before I cap this off, I should probably mention the really awesomely warm synth that backs the whole song. Just listen for it, and you’ll know.
Bruce Hornsby can write ballads with the best of them, but still he stands out amongst his peers. To know why, especially if you’ve never heard of him, you need to listen. If you’re looking for a great, honest to god love/heartbreak song to just let yourself go to, then “Mandolin Rain” is the classic you’ve been searching for.
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