Sandbox – Michael Houser
It seems obligatory that when a great musician leaves the planet, he or she will have put some final statement onto tape a few months earlier which gathers poignancy after the fact. Although it’s unlikely that anyone would have known to tell Duane Allman to be careful on his motorcycle after “Little Martha,” or John Lennon to keep an eye out for psycho fans after “Just Like Starting Over,” both songs close out these artists’ stories in ways that at least provide some comfort to balance out the aggravation of not having more.
Michael Houser’s Sandbox is one of the first HORDE-generation entries in this category. Unlike Allman and Lennon, he had a stretch of time to prepare for his exit, and one gets the sense that he knew it as he was writing at least half these songs, and that he was calm about it. On the first song, the repeat chorus tells us that “I’m gonna get there/No matter what,” and although it wouldn’t be true in the end, it’s true for at least the five minutes that you’re listening to this song. Similar sentiments pervade the rest of the disc: “Can’t Change The Past,” “No Cryin’ Now.”
Granted, the vocals are lazy enough to make Tom Petty sound like Robert Plant by comparison, and perhaps “Country Sex Song” turns the whimsy up a bit too high. The appeal of Sandbox, though, is that it’s obviously the work of a man who doesn’t care anymore about reviews or sales. Judging from this CD, Houser had few concerns other than saying goodbye to family and friends and getting some more assured, catchy songs with carefully-crafted guitar onto disc.
Producer John Keane is a strong ally, putting these songs into a relaxed but polished final form and getting some fitting contributions from Houser’s Panic-mates (higher-pitched vocal cameos from John Bell, subtle groove spice from percussionist Domingo Ortiz and solid drumming from Andrew Hanmer and Todd Nance). Also, by putting “Goodbye My Love” near the beginning and “She Drives Me To Drink” at the end, he guarantees that the disc will get its points about mortality across without being too much of a downer.
Sorry you couldn’t stick around, Michael, but thanks for leaving a nice final set behind.