Under Review: The Baseball Project – Volume 2: High And Inside

It’s always a dubious thing to title an album “Volume 1.” With such a title, you’re already making promises about the future; and that can often lead to forced follow-ups (or no follow-ups at all). When The Baseball Project – the part power pop part musical history lesson led by Steve Wynn and Scott McCaughey – released their 2008 debut, I began itching for more almost immediately. Following a rousing, live jukebox kind of tour, The Baseball Project returned to the studio, but it wouldn’t be for Volume 2 just yet. Released over the course of the entire 2010 season, Broadside Ballads consisted of nine songs written about notable players and games as they were becoming notable. From the death of beloved pitcher Jose Lima (“Lima Time!”) to the rise of new favorites Roy Halladay (“30 Doc”) and Stephen Strasburg (“Phenom”), Broadside Ballads served as the ever-updating soundtrack to a typical season’s worth of great stories. All this was leading up to the release of the Project’s second full length, an album that delivers more lovingly penned songs about America’s game.

The first thing that Volume 2: High And Inside can boast over its predecessor is an increase in musical depth and variety. “Buckner’s Bolero” ponders the potential causes of the first baseman’s notorious bum play in the ’86 series over a churning, cinematic backdrop. Mariners right fielder Ichiro Suzuki accomplishes superhuman feats in the sci-fi rave-up “Ichiro Goes To The Moon” and a bright organ swirls around “Twilight Of My Career,” a kiss off from Roger Clemens to the Red Sox. As on Volume 1, Wynn and McCaughey trade off on just about every song, though drummer Linda Pitmon appears as a vocalist much more prominently here. She shouts the titular warning on “Look Out Mom” and takes an entire verse on the delightful “Fair Weather Fans.” That last tune also features a rare vocal appearance from bassist Peter Buck, who simply intones that his favorite team would have to be “the Washington Senators.”

Just like on albums from The Minus 5, High And Inside is strongly defined by its guest performers. Craig Finn of The Hold Steady leads the group for an ode to his beloved Twins (“Don’t Call Them Twinkies”) and members of The Decemberists help out with some of the instrumentation. Despite the help, The Baseball Project’s songs shine in their simplicity. Whether it’s the resurgence of awesome nicknames (“Panda And The Freak”) or the lack of aggressive pitchers around today (“Chin Music”), Wynn and McCaughey craft these songs with equal deference to the stories and the melodies. Nowhere else is this more apparent than on High And Inside’s closing track, “Here Lies Carl Mays.” A delicate ballad sung from the perspective of the spitballer who delivered the infamous ‘pitch that killed’ to the head of Indians shortstop Ray Chapman in 1920. McCaughey’s elegy paints Mays as subsequently tortured by Chapman’s death, culminating with a wish that “that killer pitch had never left [his] hand.” It’s a heavy way to close an album, but the song serves as a reminder that all parts of human history, even our most beloved diversions, have a dark side that must be remembered despite the pain.


~ by E. on February 28, 2011.

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