Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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The Baseball Project

  • Vol. 1: Frozen Ropes and Dying Quails [Yep Roc, 2008] A
  • Volume 2: High and Inside [Yep Roc, 2011] A-
  • 3rd [Yep Roc, 2014] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Vol. 1: Frozen Ropes and Dying Quails [Yep Roc, 2008]
All public endeavors have their journeymen, and if Steve Wynn and Scott McCaughey aren't obscurities like Ryan Freel and Alfredo Amezaga, they're certainly half flashes like Ty Wigginton and Willie Bloomquist--diligent, productive, enduring, their great moments well gone now and also not all that great. That would be the Dream Syndicate and the Young Fresh Fellows, although this band-in-concept-only is more like McCaughey's shifting Minus Five, complete with retro-alt songcraft and Peter Buck moonlighting away. It turns out that, like folk music before it, the static, jangly retro-alt template makes a dandy setting for topical songs. Just going by tune and lyrical hook, the only dud here is McCaughey's weeper about Mark McGwire, and as an amateur expert in the field I swear several hit the ball on the sweet spot: tributes to Curt Flood, Harvey Haddix, Big Ed Delahanty, and a closer with his arm like hamburger meat. A

Volume 2: High and Inside [Yep Roc, 2011]
These 13 excellent songs are sufficiently specialized to make you realize how classic Volume 1 was--and what a theme statement "Past Time" was. Here the lead "1976" mourns Mark Fidrych, and though those who don't remember how rock and roll the kid was should look it up, that choice signals a smaller compass and a focus on frailty and death. "Chin Music" cheers on bad-asses who throw up and in, but later beanballs have tragic consequences for Tony Conigliaro's career and then Ray Chapman's very life--in a closer narrated by Carl Mays, the submariner who delivered the fatal pitch. Just as sad and strong is "Twilight of My Career," narrated by a Roger Clemens they'll almost convince you is a tragic figure. Yet the new season always brings new hope--Panda and the Freak will win the Series, and Ichiro will go to the moon. A-

3rd [Yep Roc, 2014]
Threepeats are hard, and some of these songs are soft. In addition to the flabby "Extra Inning of Love," which I bet is soft two ways, these tend to be about the good guys--Dale Murphy, Bernie Williams, even Babe Ruth, whose personal failings are swallowed up, as the lyric argues, by the size of his myth. Unfortunately, even Henry Aaron's career-long battle with racism doesn't make as good a story here as Lenny Dykstra's hustles or Alex Rodriguez's conceit or Dock Ellis's headhunting or Larry Yount's failure, and when Scott McCaughey croons it only makes things softer. But the songs about fandom--"Stats" and "The Baseball Card Song," the devotional "Box Scores" and encyclopedic "They Played Baseball"--suit a band of also-rans old enough to treasure their own fans' rooting interest. And note that none of the five is an Oakland A's devotee. I'm not either, but Billy Beane was right, and not exactly for the first time, to make their celebration of his franchise the team song. Real fans knew what a great story that team was long before they made a movie out of it. A-

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