I realized today that although I’ve posted a few tracks, I’ve never done a complete write-up on one of the all-time college radio greats, Morphine. If you haven’t heard these guys, they’re a 3-piece outfit of bass, sax, and drums that bend jazz, blues, and rock into a wet, smooth coolness that is great with headphones or backing a party.
Front man Mark Sandman played a two-string bass and sang inventive and subtle lyrics in a smoky tenor made for crowded bars. Sax impresario Dana Colley played baritone, bass, or tenor (sometimes 2 at once) saxophones as big and good a thanksgiving turkey. Drummer Billy Conway joined the band after their first album and had all the right moves for the sound. At a time when a lot of Boston bands were trying to play louder and faster than their competition, Morphine was trying to play soft and slow. You are going to like these guys.
In their 10 years together, they put out 5 studio albums of increasing complexity and maturity that show a progression from the raw essence of passionate, young genius to realized exploration of their chosen musical space. I love nearly every song they’ve put out and will probably eventually write up all of their studio releases. Today, though, I want to recommend their 2nd album, “Cure for Pain.”
The whole album is good, really, but here are 4 outstanding tracks that will give you a good flavor for the ground they covered.
- Buena – The opening of this song has the feel of a true story. The band is playing a show and someone shouts out, “We want something good!” I’m not sure what his response means. It might be a drug reference. Or not. Anyway, it rocks.
- In Spite of Me – I think this is the most delicate and beautiful song they ever did. A little mandolin, sad lyrics, and nearly whispered vocals make this a heart wrencher.
- Thursday – Love. This. Song. These are some the coolest lyrics ever written. He used to have a regular Thursday tryst but he gets greedy and blows it. Funny and clever. Give it a listen.
- Cure for Pain – This is one of my two favorite songs by Morphine (the other being ‘All Your Way’). There is no studio version on YouTube, but I did find this outstanding live performance.
Mark Sandman collapsed on stage in Italy at the Nel Nome del Rock festial on July 3rd, 1999 and was pronounced dead shortly thereafter. Morphine disbanded. Colley and Conway have worked to keep Sandman’s memory and music alive but have also done some great work with other people. I hope they will bring the show to Cleveland soon.
UPDATE: I went to the Beachland Ballroom on Thursday and saw Members of Morphine and Jeremy Lyons or, as they apparently call themselves now, the Ever-Expanding Elastic Waste Band. Wow. Tremendous show. Lyons is a talented bass player and singer and, more importantly, he fits. Sax maestro Dana Colley shared front-man duties and they were personally engaging and musically amazing. Colley actually played some harmonica, which I had never heard before. Nor surprisingly, it was great. Jerome Deupree, who has played percussion with Morphine in the past, is a master of appropriate grooves. What an enjoyable show. I had to bolt out of the venue (my girlfriend had to work Friday) and forgot to stop and pick up a CD, but I have asked for it for Christmas. If they come to your town, check them out. Otherwise, grab the new CD. The old Morphine music was well-executed and the new music was really cool.