When Wilsall musician and rancher Billy Conway discovered he had Stage IV liver cancer, his friends encouraged him, with their help, to make a recording. The drummer for the successful ’90s alt-rock band Morphine agreed that it’d be good medicine, and dusted off 13 songs he’s written over the years.
The album was produced by his long-time partner, musician Laurie Sargent, who put out her own album at the same time (Smiley Face). They’re hoping to raise funds for medical bills. No less than 12 musicians lent a hand, including Conway’s 10-year touring partner, Jeffrey Foucault.
Conway sings lead and plays guitars, drums and percussion, plus bass, vibraphone and harmonica. Sargent provides guitar, bass and keys, and sings harmony. Morphine band-mate Dana Colley supplies saxophone and clarinets, and oodles of others add percussion, pedal steel, vocals, and exotic African instruments, to name a few.
The result is a pleasing massage of the eardrums. Conway’s expressive, seasoned voice exudes a world-weary quality that commands attention, and his drum work is, as always, impeccable. He’s tight, tasteful and understated on swampy blues, rock, folk and country styles.
“Get Well” is sweetly rockin’ and hopeful, for good reason. “Let’s call the angels, let’s hope we all get well,” Conway sings.
“Blow My Top,” with its supple, serpentine clarinet licks, bucks the explosive nature of the song’s title. I like it! The title song, “Outside Inside,” wherein Conway and Sargent sing unison lead, has a dreamy quality. And Conway’s whispery crackle on the waltzy “I Just Realized (I Was Drunk)” brings the late John Prine to mind. Our protagonist regrets calling his ex while fairly inebriated.
This is a graceful and melodic effort from a man in pain, who’s still managing to roll with life’s punches. Definitely worth a listen!
– Mariss McTucker