Morphine Record Tribute To Late Frontman

'Gone Against Gone,' written by Chris Ballew, online in Liquid Audio on Tuesday.

For Morphine member Dana Colley, the best antidote to his grief over the loss of bandleader Mark Sandman earlier this year was to record a song as a tribute to him.

The track, "Gone Against Gone," was written by former Presidents of the United States of America bassist Chris Ballew — a close friend of Sandman, and like him, a renowned two-string bass player. Baritone saxophonist Colley, drummer Billy Conway and Ballew recorded the song at Conway's farm in New Hampshire.

"We were all together and making music for the first time since Mark had died onstage," Colley, 38, said last week from Cambridge, Mass. "It helped us in getting over that hump."

The three played the song during a memorial concert for Sandman on July

8 at the Lizard Lounge in Boston. The tune will be available for download

in Liquid Audio on Tuesday (Dec. 14).

Sandman, Morphine's singer/songwriter, collapsed as the Boston rock trio

performed at the Giardini del Principe in Palestrina, Italy, 30 miles

outside of Rome, on July 3. He was 46.

The permanent download file of "Gone Against Gone" will cost $1.99, and the proceeds from the sale will benefit a music-education fund in Sandman's name. It will be available on Morphine's website (www.morphine3.com), the Liquid Audio site (www.liquidaudio.com) and CDNow (www.cdnow.com) through Feb. 1.

Ballew, at the July memorial service, expressed what Sandman meant to his career and to his life.

"I would not play the songs I play, I would not know the things I know, if not for Mark," he told the crowd. "He let me live in his house and he shared his two-string. ... He made me who I am today. I will miss him."

The release of "Gone Against Gone" precedes Morphine's final studio album with Sandman, The Night, which comes out Feb. 1. Morphine were known for the quirky interplay between Sandman and Colley, with Sandman's stern voice and pop melodies driving songs such as "Like Swimming" (RealAudio excerpt) and "A Head With Wings" (RealAudio excerpt).

The new album continues in the same vein, but its songs are warmer than those on their previous albums, which include 1996's heralded Cure for Pain. Colley said the band spent more than two years recording the album at Sandman's Boston loft; it was the first time they had recorded away from a traditional studio. The loft's atmosphere led to the new LP's loose sound and its breeziness, Colley said.

The title track is a soft, lush piano ballad that finds Sandman desperately expressing his love for his significant other. He sings, "I can't make it on my own," in the chorus.

Other highlights of the new record include the rousing "Top Floor, Bottom Buzzer," a rocker with female backup singers, and the solemn but catchy "Souvenir." John Medeski, of Medeski, Martin & Wood, plays organ on the former song.

"[Morphine] had a totally different sound," Laurie Gail, the music director for Boston rock-radio station WFNX-FM, said. They certainly broke a lot of rules."

Gail said that when it first broke in the late 1980s, local music fans never considered the band's instrumentation strange — it was immediately embraced by a scene used to diverse music.

Colley said the band finished The Nightonly weeks before Sandman's death. He said Sandman smiled "for the first time in two years" upon turning the album in to DreamWorks.

"I can chuckle at certain elements ... like, I remember that riff [Mark] was trying to show me at soundcheck," Colley said, reflecting on the making of the record (RealAudio excerpt of interview). "It all kind of marks a time capsule of the last few years."

Colley said he and Conway will tour Europe and the United States with other Boston musicians as Orchestra Morphine in the spring. He also said the band has talked with promoters in Palestrina about possibly staging a concert July 3 that would mark the one-year anniversary of Sandman's death.