Review: Mickey Hart calibrates universal rhythms on ‘RAMU’
Mickey Hart, “RAMU” (Verve Forecast)
There’s plenty of movement on Mickey Hart’s 14th studio album, as the Grateful Dead drummer extends his prolific solo career centered on his amazing approaches to percussion, knowing expeditions into world music and the cross pollination between music and sciences.
“RAMU” stands for “Random Access Musical Universe,” Hart’s ever-expanding database of recordings including a wide array of rhythms, loops, samples and digital and analogue sounds. Hart has turned it into a musical instrument he “plays” by way of dials, pads and pedals. It’s like hearing a performance of the Smithsonian Institute.
His cosmos includes resources like the tongue-tying cadences of a tobacco auctioneer circa 1944, a song from eastern Peru and archive performances from late bandmate Jerry Garcia and Nigerian drummer Babatunde Olatunji, both frequent collaborators on Hart’s solo albums.
The grooves, however, are solidly grounded, captured in more traditionally structured tracks often co-written with Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter and sung by Animal Collective’s Avey Tare or Tarriona “Tank” Ball of the New Orleans-based group Tank and the Bangas.
Ball, whose band won this year’s Tiny Desk contest on NPR, is a real talent. She performs old school-style raps on some songs and sings with plenty of soul on others. On “Who Do You Think You Are?” she does both and sounds like a combination between Lene Lovich and Jill Scott.
The album also reflects Hart’s politics and his disdain for President Trump, mentioned by name on “Big Bad Wolf” but clearly an inspiration elsewhere on the record, too.
Be that as it may, the powers of “RAMU” stem from Hart’s ability to calibrate layers upon layers of rhythms and melodies from bountiful sources — fine tuning instead of Auto-Tuning.