Mickey Hart,
Mystery Box
(Rykodisc, 1996)

Mystery Box is different from other projects by Mickey Hart (once the drummer for the Grateful Dead), which have an ethnic sound, emphasize complex percussion, and lack lyrics. In Mystery Box the layered percussion is still there, intertwining with and supporting the vocals and lyrics. It sounds brighter and lighter than Planet Drum (deep and rich), with less bass and more emphasis on complexity in the mid-range.

The Mint Juleps, who do many of the vocals, are a female a cappella group whose singing complements the percussion beautifully.

The songs cover a wide range of themes and sounds. Most people have a favorite or two, and these are different from person to person and often change over time; I know mine have! No one song can summarize the album's sound.

One of my favorites remains the first song, "Where Love Goes," about the hopeful beginning and unfortunate end of a love, and moving on with a refreshing lack of bitterness. It includes the lyric: "That don't mean I don't believe in love -- you know I do. Love to give, and to receive ... I just don't believe in you." The percussion amazed me the first time I heard it, and continues to delight.

I also like "Sangre de Cristo," which requests the mountains in the American Southwest to "send down the rain," and "John Cage is Dead" which uses the composer's techniques as a cacophonous backdrop for the surreal lyrics. This is one that's grown on me over time! Admirers of the Sandman graphic novels might enjoy the way "The Sandman" weaves those references with other versions of the Sandman figure.

This is one of my favorite CDs, and one I listen to often. It would be a pleasant introduction to percussion-based music for anyone who isn't used to it -- the percussion is there, but so are the melodies and lyrics. The songs are ensemble works, with nothing shadowing the other elements; the singing and lyrics complement the percussion well. And the complex percussion is delightful for those of us who are already entranced by such!

I recommend Mickey Hart's Mystery Box as a collection of wonderful music that's pleasant to listen to initially and stands up very well to repeated listening.

[ by Amanda Fisher ]

Buy it from Amazon.com.