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Published: 2002/10/25
by Jeremy Welsh

Door Harp – Michael Houser

Sanctuary Records 06076-84576-2

Many fans of Widespread Panic – and simply those in the jamband
community – had heard rumors about Mikey Houser's health condition
months before any official word was given. And while people tried hard
not to believe, dispelling the rumors whenever possible, there was no
doubt in anyone's mind by the time Mikey made his formal announcement
that he was in for the fight of his life. A "get well" blitz was
launched by the on-line community, fans began to proclaim their favorite
Mikey moments, and whisperings of "What next?" began to creep into
discussion lists.

But, as all this was going on, Mikey was seemingly coping in the best
way he knew possible: through music, playing with Widespread Panic
through the early part of July 2002. And Michael Houser's posthumous
release, Door Harp, offers a wonderfully intimate glimpse into his
life.
Recorded in March of 2002, and accompanied by his long-time friends
Domingo Ortiz (percussion) and John Keane (pedal steel guitar and
producer), Mikey has left us a beautiful and peaceful album. One cannot
help but think that Mikey knew what the future held for him — and he was
accepting. What else could have been expected from this unassuming and
private family man, a man who performed in front of thousands of fans
sitting on a stool, head bent over so his hair obstructed his eyes? Not
some raucous, electric album, filled with effects and layers for which he
was well known. But rather an album where the simplicity of a mandolin,
a piano, a cello and violin all shine through.

Everything is subtle, almost understated, from Mikey's mandolin on the
opening track "Missoula" – helping you picture Montana sliding by your
window – to Wayne Postell's trumpet on "Spanish Gold", to John Keane's
pedal steel throughout the album, especially when it stunningly appears
on "Old #1". And there is also something special in hearing Mikey play the
piano, an instrument that was not usually associated with the guitarist.
It all combines to create this feeling of comfort.

There is a place for fighting, attempting to change the inevitable. As
Dylan Thomas wrote: "Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight/And
learn, too late, they grieved it on its way/Do not go gentle into that
good night." But as Door Harp clearly shows, there is an alternative.
Michael Houser did not learn too late; he shows an acceptance of his
fate and an understanding of the future — and, with his last release, he
has offered us all one more glimpse into the beauty of his music.
Offering to give comfort to us, the listener — not the other way around.
As Mikey said: "[These songs] are simple and calming . . . We kept the
songs clean and uncluttered, allowing the melodies to build and fade and
journey of their own accord." As Mikey's journey came to an end, he gave
us the songs on Door Harp to continue on for him.

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