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Published: 2012/08/01
by Justin Jacobs

Mickey Hart Band
Mysterium Tremendum

Smithsonian Folkways

Mickey Hart, half of the throbbing percussive pulse of the Grateful Dead, has never been one for modest rock and roll ideas. His 1971 solo debut, Rolling Thunder, included a Native American prayer and involved rain sticks. His 1991 Grammy-winning Planet Drum was full of—you guessed it—drummers from all over the planet. And yet, even with Hart’s quotes about Mysterium Tremendum (“It’s all about the vibrations that make up the infinite universe”), it’s an instantly accessible album of jazz-inflected global grooves. The project, which is two years in the making, isn’t so weird that it’ll alienate beginners, but it’s spaced-out enough to keep the ‘heads happy and engaged. Hart sets most of these tunes, with lyrics co-written by Robert Hunter, on simmer but never on boil, making for a cool, calm and collected album. The sound of Hart’s tight band, including Widespread Panic bassist Dave Schools, seems natural while bringing together disparate elements—dual vocalists Crystal Monee Hall and Trans-Siberian Orchestra alum Tim Hockenberry coo like they’re in a smoky club while Hart’s complex space-drums build like a Shpongle mind-warper. Only half of the tracks truly stick—the slow, mesmerizing “Ticket To Nowhere,” the funky, wobbling “Supersonic,” the bound-to-be-fun live “Slo Jo”—but Hart’s constant groove exploration and “infinite universe” attitude keep the music mysterious, if not tremendous.

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