The main man of Morphine, bassist and singer Mark Sandman (1953-1999), had a lot of music in him. Before the 1990 formation of that unique trio -- saxophone, bass, and drums, with no guitars or keys -- Sandman anchored the Massachusetts roots-rock outfit Treat Her Right. During and between those gigs, he was apparently a compulsive recorder. Far from a let's-capitalize-on-the-dead-artist package, Sandbox -- two CDs and a DVD -- collects, through the auspices of Morphine mates Dana Colley and Billy Conway, what Sandman was doing on the side.
True, a few songs sound like Morphine outtakes or leftovers, albeit very good ones: "Justine" has that lean, snaking, Beat-jazz-flavored groove, and "The Phone" is a late-night phone-sex invocation, all purring multiple Sandman voices and distant, cyclic percussion beats. But then there's "Some Other Dog," a slice of shuffling, white-hot Chicago blues, with searing, Little Walter-style harmonica. And what about the unabashedly romantic Tex-Mex ballad "Hombre" (sung partly in Spanish), where the man chases the ghosts of old-school crooners Roy Orbison and Marty Robbins?
The unifying qualities of Sandbox are Sandman's clear, honest singing and the slightly rough-hewn joie de vivre in the instrumental performances. By and large, Sandbox is not a collection for devotees only -- anyone who values both "roots" and restless creativity (Tom Waits, say) ought to save up for this one.