You'd be forgiven for being skeptical about an album of songs on the topic of baseball. One imagines a dusty carton of CDs with cheesy cover art on the counter of a gift shop, or perhaps the pet project of a stadium organist. You would not be forgiven, however, for passing on an album featuring the likes of Peter Buck (R.E.M, The Minus 5), Steve Wynn (Dream Syndicate, Steve Wynn and the Miracle 3), Scott McCaughey (The Minus 5, R.E.M., Fresh Young Fellows), and Linda Pitmon (Steve Wynn and the Miracle 3, Golden Smog), regardless of the title or cover art. These four rock veterans have amassed over 140 years of touring experience and dozens of studio albums. With all due respect to stadium organists everywhere, that doesn't exactly put them in the same category as Ernie Hays.
Volume 2 is collection of baseball narratives that span over 90 years of the sport's history and includes myriad characters and events, both well-known (Roger Clemens, Suzuki Ichiro) and relatively unknown (Tony Conigliaro, Mark Fidrych, the death of Ray Chapman by fastball to the head). Lyrics are predominantly the responsiblity of Wynn and McCaughey, who do a great job of molding what is not exactly poetic content around well-worn but timeless rock arrangements.
"1976" may be the album's best track, with the nostalgic refrain of "it's always 1976" and a melody based on sunny guitar and melancholy organ. "Don't Call Them Twinkies," a love song to the Minnesota Twins, is another highlight. In this Hold Steady-esque anthem, featuring that band's lead singer Craig Finn on vocals, the delivery is so impassioned that it almost made me a Twins fan myself, until I remembered what they did to the Cardinals in the 1987 World Series. "Buckner's Bolero" recounts the unfortunate legacy of Bill Buckner, a solid ball player ill-remembered due to the fielding error that cost the Boston Red Sox the 1986 World Series. The wistful song easily succeeds in making penance for two and a half decades of abuse by sportscasters and fans.
Not all songs here are keepers though. "Chin Music" is a bit hokey while "Look Out Mom" and "Twilight of My Career" consist of lyrics too vague to make clear the actual subjects of the narratives. But these weaknesses point out what the rest of the album's songs do so well, which is to weave entertaining plots and characters into the ongoing narrative of two things that we all love, baseball and rock and roll. This album may just barely clear the left field fence, but as any fan will tell you, a home run is a home run.
The Baseball Project appears at Twangfest 15 on June 11.