In March 2002, Widespread Panic’s original guitarist Michael Houser was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He passed away on August 10. The instrumental Door Harp was released posthumously on September 24, 2002. 

Houser began recording these instrumental songs at John Keane‘s Athens, Georgia, studio and his musician friends were invited to participate in the melancholy, yet celebratory musical process. Door Harp and Sandbox became the recordings from these sessions. Door Harp sounds timeless even in the resonating sadness and soulful mood concerning what was at stake. Houser played guitar, mandolin and piano while John Keane handled pedal steel and guitar duties. Panic percussionist Sunny Ortiz covered the percussion while David Henry played violin and Andy Carlson cello.

Door Harp ranks as a brilliant collection. The 14 songs run 49 minutes. “Missoula” begins the instrumental Door Harp with guitar, mandolin and John Keane’s ethereal pedal steel. A beautiful piano ballad for his daughter–“Eva’s Song”– emits a soothing sonic quality. “Barbette’s Song”–dedicated to his wife–displays Houser’s ability to evoke emotion through his guitar. 

“Spanish Gold” conjures visions of cobblestone streets, lost treasures and old adobe missions. “Old #1″, another acoustic guitar, mandolin and pedal steel filled composition, emits a soulful hope in the beauty of the music. “The Westerly Wind” captures another ethereal piano-laced tune. “Cleburne Terrace” calls to mind Nick Drake’s Pink Moon. The title track streamlines the tranquil thread to the record, but knowing Houser knew he was dying recording these songs accentuates a deep sadness.

The guitar tone on “Fall Line” reminds me of a rainy day. “The Owl’s Song” emits a really wooden echo sound. A sad fiddle weaves in and out of the song as does the percussion, and then Mikey’s quiet run on electric guitar.  “The Music Song” resembles something from Bob Dylan’ Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid soundtrack. 

“A Change In the Weather” could serve as a score for a music soundtrack. “Quietude” ends Door Harp with a resonating peace and tranquility. Door Harp will forever stand as testimony to Houser’s vast talent, and the heart-rending fact he passed away too early at the age of 40.

You can read my definitive interview with Todd Nance, another dearly departed member of Widespread Panic, in Insured Beyond The Grave Vol. 2.