The Baseball Project is a concept group, so by definition, they make concept albums. Formed by Steve Wynn, Scott McCaughey, Linda Pitmon, and Peter Buck, and united by a love of baseball and alternative rock, the group released a concept album of rocking narrative songs centered on baseball, Volume 1: Frozen Ropes & Dying Quails, in 2008. Now, abetted by guest appearances from Steve Berlin, Ira Kaplin, Robert Lloyd, Chris Funk, John Moen, Ben Gibbard, and Craig Finn, the group has returned for Volume 2: High and Inside, a second album of like-minded baseball narratives. The Baseball Project doesn’t do fluff songs on the subject, though, and the songs on this second outing, like they were on the first, are intelligently written and arranged, running the full spectrum of emotions that baseball can inspire in a fan, and in so doing, the best of the songs rise above novelty to grapple with the passions and difficulties of life itself. Like the first effort, this second volume leans toward the maudlin side of things on several pieces (baseball is a game of failure, after all, even the best hitters fail seven out of ten times and life itself can be an even tougher game than that), but rises above it with other tracks that sparkle with summer joy and a goofy sense of humor. One doesn’t have to be a baseball fan to enjoy this album, but it is a deeper experience if one is, and songs like “1976” (which remembers the late Mark “The Bird” Fidrych and his single year of brilliance), “Don’t Call Them Twinkies” (which celebrates the scrappy small market team the Minnesota Twins), and “Ichiro Goes to the Moon” (an homage to the Seattle Mariners’ outfielder set to surf music) have an added poignancy for baseball fans. The most striking piece here is the last track, “Here Lies Carl Mays,” which deals with the cruel ironies of life as much as it does baseball. Mays was the pitcher, then playing for the New York Yankees, who beaned and killed the Cleveland Indians’ Ray Chapman in a game in 1920. Baseball was a much more nasty game then (it was the Ty Cobb era, after all) and pitching high and inside was a huge part of a pitcher’s arsenal in those days, but Mays, who refused to attend Chapman’s funeral, showed little public remorse over the incident and his baseball legacy (Mays played from 1915 to 1929 with four different Major League teams and compiled a lifetime record of 207-126 with an ERA of 2.92; very good numbers), and indeed his whole life, was defined by the tragedy. The song covers Mays’ life from a first-person perspective and it’s a powerful story, with a striking final image that disturbs way more than it soothes. The Baseball Project may record songs about baseball, but baseball takes place within life itself, and in the end, it’s life that’s celebrated here.
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AllMusic Review by Steve Leggett