Today’s Cool Album of the Day (#675 in the Series) is The Baseball Project, Volume 1: Frozen Ropes and Dying Quails
Somewhere, probably with one heck of a backing band, Steve Goodman is performing his annual rite of spring, “A Dying Cub Fan’s Last Request” for “The Man in Charge” in his annual attempt to bring positive Mojo to the Chicago Cubs and at long last bring a championship to one of the most storied franchises in all of baseball. It is in this reverential spirit that the collective group of artists known as The Baseball Project was formed and released the album Vol. 1: Frozen Ropes and Dying Quails.
The Baseball Project is a concept group united by their love of baseball and music formed by Steve Wynn of the Dream Syndicate, Peter Buck guitarist for REM, Scott McCaughey who was with The Minus Five, and Linda Pittman, drummer for Golden Smog. Don’t be mistaken, these are serious baseball fans and this is no Dr. Demento, Weird Al set of song parodies. What we have here is a fun, sometimes poignant set of narratives set to song that could serve as a primer for anyone wanting to learn about the history of the game, and the characters that inhabit the dugouts, roam the outfields, and run the bases.
The music on the album is first rate with some jangle pop, Hammond organ, and a healthy dose of indie-folk that puts a nice glossy sheen on the historical narratives. It is sort of like watching the movie instead of reading the book, a painless way to learn about the great American pastime.
Leading off is the song “Past Time” that quickly absorbs you in the spirit of the album with a “Crazy Horse” indie vibe complemented by a delicious Hammond organ giving you an overview of events of baseball’s past including Bert “Campy” Campaneris playing all nine positions in one game, Pete Rose running over Ray Fosse in the All-Star game, and Denny McClain winning 31 games for the Detroit Tigers.
Batting second for the Boston Red Sox is “Ted Fucking Williams”, a song that tells us in no uncertain terms that Willie Mays and Duke Snider can’t hold a candle to Ted Williams, and there is nothing that they can do that Ted can’t do. Just ask him, because after all he is Ted Fucking Williams.
“Gratitude” (For Curt Flood) brings things to the more current headlines telling the story about his battle for free agency from his own point of view. On the Day that I died and they laid me in the ground / Where was everybody, they couldn’t be found. / I’m gone and they don’t know my name, no plaque speech no Hall of Fame / Arod, Zito,Pesada,Tejada,Johan,Manny,Maddox,Musina / Who’s the one that paved the way with blood? / go say my name / It is Flood Curt Flood
Fittingly, batting clean-up is the song “Broken Man,” a song that references the day that Mark McGwire broke the single season home run record in front the family of Roger Maris and directly addresses the steroid scandal in the process. The beautiful acoustic guitar for 2/3 of the song leads to a crescendo-like finish that perfectly complements the not-so-subtle message that is delivered to the commissioner of baseball, Bud Selig, in this no-holds-barred biting commentary of a song. “No one seemed to care when it brought back the fans. It’s a broken record strike up the band for the broken man. The crowds so loud and the son so very proud, the powers that be counting money handed me the crown. Only now they decide it’s time to take a stand, it’s a broken record strike up the band for the broken man.”
The baseball history lessons continue for the rest of the album where you hear about Satchel Paige pitching “A Million Games”, the story of the Harvey Haddix “perfect game” where he pitched 12 perfect innings and lost in the 13th, and the murder ballad “The Death of Big Ed Delaney” who played between 1888 – 1903 only to meet his demise after being thrown off a train for being drunk and disorderly and was eventually found dead at the foot of Niagara Falls.
The seventh inning stretch song “Long Before My Time” takes us inside the head and heart of a major league ball player that is struggling with his diminishing skills and Father Time. This song more than any other shows that these guys really know the game from both a psychological and historical perspective.
With a musical soundtrack that is at times as soft and chewy as a Leonard’s malasada, and at others as direct and menacing as a bean ball to the head, the music could stand on its own merit even it weren’t part of a concept album about baseball. But it is, and it is and the sum of the parts come together beautifully making this one darn good indie-rock album.
- “Past Time” (McCaughey) – 2:57
- “Ted Fucking Williams” (Wynn) – 3:04
- “Gratitude (For Curt Flood)” (Wynn) – 3:23
- “Broken Man” (McCaughey) – 2:52
- “Satchel Paige Said” (McCaughey) – 2:25
- “Fernando” (Wynn) – 3:47
- “Long Before My Time” (Wynn) – 3:14
- “Jackie’s Lament” (Wynn) – 3:25
- “Sometimes I Dream of Willie Mays” (McCaughey) – 3:33
- “The Death of Big Ed Delahanty” (McCaughey) – 3:35
- “Harvey Haddix” (Wynn) – 4:25
- “The Yankee Flipper” (McCaughey) – 3:40
- “The Closer” (Wynn) – 4:24
The Baseball Project
- Peter Buck – guitars, electric sitar, mandolin, bouzoki, six-string bass guitar
- Scott McCaughey – vocals, bass guitar, guitars, piano, Farfisa, accordion, harmonica, percussion
- Linda Pitmon – drums, vocals, percussion
- Steve Wynn – vocals, guitar, organ, melodica