Picks and Pans Review: Mickey Hart's Mystery Box
On his first record following the death of Jerry Garcia, the ex-Grateful Dead drummer follows up his Grammy-winning 1991 Planet Drum release with this cacophonous celebration of world-beat music, stirring percussive interplay and dulcet vocals. Before going into the studio, Hart provided Dead lyricist Robert Hunter with raw rhythm tracks and, aided by a computer, gave the songs their sonic structure. But it's a female British a cappella group, the Mint Juleps, that gives the global funkfest "Where Love Goes (Sito)" and the jaunty, playful "The Sandman" (with Bob Weir on guitar) depth and resonance. Hart does a spoken-word rap to the sweetly naive "Down the Road," in which he lumps Jack Kennedy and Garcia together in a touching song about the spiritual presence of those long gone. It's a mite corny, but Hart's message is clear: There are no sad endings in the realm of the Dead, just life-affirming new beginnings. (Rykodisc)
CHAOS AND DISORDER
Like Charles and Diana, the pop royal known by the strange glyph above is officially ending a long, unhappy union. In his case, the artist many of his fans will always insist on calling Prince is bowing out of an 18-year relationship with Warner Bros. Records. In lieu of leaking divorce papers, Prince, who has claimed that the label was lax in promoting his career and appeared in public with the word Slave scrawled across his face in protest, delivers this maddening swan song of original material for Warner. And in doing so he makes no bones about his raid-the-vaults strategy. ("Originally intended 4 private use only," he writes in the CD liner notes.) But much of this effort is clearly not intended for public consumption.
During his purple reign, the Symbol Man made some of the most blindingly brilliant (see 1999 and Sign "o" the Times) records of the '80s. But his output in the '90s has produced more misses than hits, which may or may not be related to his ongoing disputes with his record label.
Unquestionably there are flashes of greatness here, including the sinewy 12-bar romp "Zannalee," wherein the artist coaxes the same kind of unbridled passion from his guitar that Hendrix did. And "I Rock, Therefore I Am" conjures the hyped-up funk from the singer's early days. But the disc fades into half-baked, gauzy pretentiousness not befitting the Prince of old. Fans can only hope that his newfound contractual freedom will rekindle his artistic fire and, dare we hope, signal a return to a pronounceable name. (Warner Bros.)