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Published: 2005/02/04
by Brad Farberman

Sandbox – Mark Sandman

Hi ‘n’ Dry/Kufala Recordings
I can tell you that anything Stevie Wonder has done is good. Check the rhyme: Talking Book, Fulfillingness’ First Finale, Innervisions. They’re all good (actually, all of these albums are way better than ‘good’ but, for the sake of my argument, stay with me).
Until you’re down with Songs In The Key Of Life and, suddenly, nothing is good (nothing else, that is). Songs was something different. It was great. It’s still one of the best things I’ve ever heard.
And you can play this game with all of your favorite artists. I love Maiden Voyage, and Thrust is beyond badass, but the day that Herbie and co. wrapped on Head Hunters, they made history. The Beasties never topped Paul’s Boutique, The Beatles never topped The White Album, and I can’t tell you that Marley made a better album than Kaya.
My point: there’s great music, and then there’s great music. Marley never made a bad album, but Kaya is his best.
So, I say we play this game with music en generale. Our first contestant: Mark Sandman.
A few months back, the do-gooders at Kufala put out Sandbox: Mark Sandman Original Music, a 2-CD/1-DVD retrospective spanning Sandman’s numerous projects, all of which came to a tragic halt in 1999 when he suffered a heart attack onstage in Rome and died that night.
Sandman, a multi-instrumentalist best known for his two-string bass work, fronted a number of bands, including Treat Her Right and the popular Morphine; with these groups, and various other projects, he made good music.
Not great music. His sound, which failed to shift much from band to band, hovered somewhere between crappy Beck and crappy Talking Heads/Tom Tom Club.
Which isn’t altogether awful. It’s just not great. And people like great music, especially from their 2-CD/1-DVD sets (people also like informative liner notes: the booklet lists all the players on all the tunes, but neglects to list who plays on each song).
There is some cool stuff here, though. "Wig" features an extended horn section and comes perilously close to funky territory. The sleepy, introspective "Bathtub" is a great, mopey pop song. But, for the most part, Sandman’s music packs no punch. His Chris Isaak-meets-Beck vocals and inconsequential lyrics ("I see all these people in the magazines, I’m thinkin’ I can do that," he sings on "I Can Do That") aren’t heavy enough to warrant anything more than a cult audience.
Which is cool. For longtime fans of Sandman’s career, this set should be a treat. But for strangers to the two-stringed bassist’s music, it’s not a great listen.

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