MICHAEL HOUSER | DOOR HARP

"Play something happy...Leave the sad ones alone!"
          - John Bell, Christmas Katie

Well, it arrived on my doorstep with little fanfare. I came home from work to find that familiar bulge in my mailbox. Even though it was new music for me to listen to, I approached the top of my stairs with a little hesitation, for I knew Michael Houser's solo studio release, Door Harp, would be inside waiting for me.

On first glance at the cover you are treated to a rustic painting of what I'm guessing is a door harp. This is immediately a perfect image, as it almost seems to invite you to knock, come on in and sit for a spell. I slowly opened the 14 track CD and slipped it into my player. I sat back in my favorite legless chair and let the music play.

The first track, "Missoula," crept hauntingly out of its rickety wooden confines and wafted around the room. "Missoula" immediately brought to mind that feeling of getting up before dawn and sipping on coffee while sitting in your kitchen or on your porch as you watch the sun rise. It has something of an REM feel to it and you could almost imagine it being an instrumental track left off of Green. John Keane's pedal steel work is very soothing as it leads into the sound of birds chirping to fade away into the next track.

"Eva's Song" conjures up images of a royal Victorian-era dance. It's bright and moody at the same time, if something like this is possible. I would go so far as to say it's downright Baroque at times, as is a lot of this disc. Given the title, it's not hard to imagine the song providing a soundtrack to one of Mikey's daughter's tea parties...

"Barbette's Song" exudes a romantic, sensual feel and "Spanish Gold" gives the listener a travel back in time on the sad cry of a haunting trumpet. Vision's of a matador saying goodbye to his wife as he enters the arena to do battle swirl along with the music.

"Old #1" is a shuffling mellow hoe-down that gives a good feeling of release during its duration. This is a perfect sundown/dusk song. Sounds like it could have been on the second WSP album. "The Westerly Wind" has something of a nautical feel to it...sort of like an ocean voyage that ends all to quickly.

"Cleburne Terrace" is an interesting song that has some wonderful string work from Carlson and Henry. Mikey also let's a few vocal sounds slip out although they don't qualify as words. This song has a Byrds feel to it. Purposefully or not the song ends with footsteps going through a door and flows into "Door Harp."

"Door Harp" is a pretty little rocker that subliminally resonates through your head. It's the standout track on a disc that just sparkles. It seems to speak of new beginnings, a sound similar to "The Take Out" from WSP's first disc Space Wrangler.

"Fall Line," could fall into the category of dinner music, while Mikey's laid-back electric guitar work in "The Owl's Song" sounds reminiscent of a cowboy theme song.

"The Music Box" lives up to it's namesake as it slowly opens itself up to show off a slew of treasures inside and then it gently closes itself back up.

"Lullaby for NYC" is a comforting track that emotes healing and comfort and "A Change in the Weather" sounds similar to some of Neil Young's work who was a known influence on Mikey. "Quietude" ends the disc with some excellent call and response between a guitar and a piano line that intertwines and hushes the room with its beauty.

This disc is an instrumental catharsis that travels from one mood to the next. Michael's guitar playing is precise and very classically toned. Aside from Houser handling the guitar duties, he also manages to put his special talents to work on the piano and mandolin as he gently craft's a new sound for himself that bears little resemblance to the brute force of Widespread Panic. However, he is joined by Panic's percussionist Domingo S. Ortiz aka Sonny, who lends his eclectic swipes to the mix. Also on board to fill in the gaps are the album's producer John Keane on pedal steel, keyboards and guitar, Wayne Postell on trumpet, Andy Carlson on violin and David Henry on cello. All of whom superbly contribute to the sometimes hopeful and sometimes somber mood of the disc.

This CD almost feels like a meditation to me. I'm not sure if any of this material had been created before or after Mikey's diagnosis, but I can almost sense Mikey putting his emotional and musical affairs in order as he modulates mood through his songs. While some of the playing is melancholy and dark, you are definitely struck with smiles by the clean tone and precise picking from Michael. Though this style is not his usual calling card sound, it works well for those who are not in a hurry.

This cd is not something you want to put in while hanging with your boys on the way to a show. It's not something you want to listen to at a party. Door Harp is best enjoyed solo, by yourself...with no one else around. Then it should immediately be followed with a smoking Panic show to put things in perspective. Door Harp is an emotionally heavy trip through Houser's psyche. And this is not a bad thing. Sometimes music that makes you cry is necessary for self-reflection. Having no vocals leaves the listener free to enter in their own visions, words and interpretations. This disc can turn on the tears of joy and sadness. While there are none of the fire engine wails or electro/wah scale runs he was best known for, this is still Michael Houser doing his thing.

Speaking the truth through his guitar and sharing it with the world.

"SPIRIT SOARING HIGH
HIS SUBTLE SMILE LINGERED
BEHIND HAIR COVERED EYES"

Ron "Big Woolly Mammoth" Crowell
JamBase | Panic Pure
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[Published on: 11/2/02]

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