Mickey Hart: RAMU

Justin Jacobs on November 15, 2017

If you know only one thing about the Grateful Dead’s Mickey Hart, then it’s that he’s the mastermind behind the band’s divisive mid-set “Drums” and “Space.” And whether you love them or designate them as bathroom break time, it’s undeniable that Hart is an absolute joy to watch—he’s the twisted, mad scientist to Bill Kreutzman’s straight man. And on his latest solo release, RAMU, Hart’s created a deliciously meandering, melodic exploration, with a whole cast of more contemporary voices adding some ecstatically fun spice to the global drum experience. It’s like “Drums” and “Space” with an all-star backing band of internationals and aliens.

RAMU is short for Random Access Musical Universe—the enormous collection of sound samples Hart has amassed over the decades. The percussionist has loaded this database to an actual rhythm machine, and its neon colors are all over these songs, from squelching synthesizers to found sounds, instruments from across the globe and, apparently, the sonification of brain cells. As far as album stories go, it’s hefty. Thankfully, this 12-song collection is total, free-wheeling fun—all lunging rhythms, slithering jazz, bubbling beats, stacked vocals, and foggy atmospherics.

The Michal Menert co-produced set features Zakir Hussain on tabla, Oteil Burbridge on bass, and Steve Kimock on guitar. Hart is perfectly matched with Animal Collective’s Avey Tare, whose ethereal voice lends a wobbling lift-off to the echoing electronics and chugging low-end of “Wayward Son.” On the very next track, Tarriona “Tank” Ball of New Orleans funk newcomers Tank and the Bangas rips into Hart’s see-saw rhythm with a vicious, rapped Trump diatribe. And on “Wine Wine Wine,” Hart pairs an Alan Lomax field recordings with gorgeous, aqueous saxophone. It’s a weird moment, but a wonderful one.  Stick around for “Drums” and “Space.” You won’t be disappointed.

Artist: Mickey Hart
Album: RAMU
Label: Verve