Sandbox is guitarist/vocalist Michael Houser’s second and final solo effort. It is a collection of original songs recorded in his home studio between the Fall of 2001 and Spring of 2002. While a few of the tunes have been knocking around for years, most have never been performed live, and none have appeared on any previous releases. Sadly, Houser was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer during the latter part of this recording process, and he succumbed to the disease on August 10 of that year.
Shortly before he passed away, Michael handed the recordings over to longtime friend and producer John Keane, asking him to finish the project for a posthumous follow up to Doorharp, his instrumental solo effort recorded earlier that year.
Says Keane, “I knew that Mikey had been recording material for a solo record at his home studio, but I didn’t realize how much he had accomplished until he called me over to his house to play them for me. I was stunned, to say the least. It was clear that I was listening to some of his best lyrics and melodies, and the guitar and mandolin parts were breathtaking in their beauty and simplicity.
Mikey asked me to flesh out the songs with additional instrumentation, and he expressed a desire to have band mate John Bell contribute some vocals. We also agreed that the drum machine rhythm parts should be replaced with real drums and percussion. I felt honored to be entrusted with the task of polishing these rough diamonds into a finished record. That was the last time Mikey and I spoke—a week later he was gone.
I didn’t have a chance to start work on the project until the following Spring. I enlisted the aid of drummer Andrew Hanmer to replace the drum machine tracks with live drums. Later that year during a break between tours, band mates John Bell, Todd Nance, and Sunny Ortiz came into the studio and lent their talents for the final icing on the cake.
For me, working on this project was a bittersweet experience—emotionally wrenching and joyously satisfying at the same time. Although the album as a whole is an uplifting celebration of Mikey’s life, a few of these songs completely ripped my heart out when I first heard them after his passing, and I had to put them on the backburner for a while before I could begin working on them.
This record is classic Mikey at his best, despite his struggles with failing health. His wry sense of humor and generous spirit prevail throughout. It’s a very intimate and personal musical statement, and a wonderful parting gift for those of us who knew him, and those who have yet to discover his legacy.”