Michael Houser; Sandbox

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Michael Houser’s lingering leads were the foundation of 20-year southern jam kings Widespread Panic. But things suddenly changed when the guitarist succumbed to pancreatic cancer in 2002. His passing left a network of fans in mourning and an established grassroots powerhouse forced to reinvent itself. In 2006 we get Houser’s final postcard, “Sandbox,” 12 songs cooked up in his Athens, Ga., garage and recently finished by longtime Panic producer John Keane with the help of band mates John Bell and Sunny Ortiz. The acoustic-based record, filled with country guitar and rock mandolin, is emotionally bittersweet in tunes like “Goodbye My Love” and “Can’t Change the Past,” burning with Houser’s distinct sense of melody and lullaby voice. But this swan song is not just meant to induce tears, also bringing a chuckle through sardonic themes in “Country Sex Song” and “She Drives Me to Drink.”

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