The Baseball Project

The Baseball Project, Vol. 1: Frozen Ropes and Dying Quails

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The Baseball Project actually began back in 1992 when musicians Scott McCaughey and Steve Wynn met and discovered they shared a passionate interest in baseball and its fascinating history of quirky, eccentric personalities with amazing stories that could make you laugh or cry, and sometimes both at once. The plan to make an album of original modern rock songs about all of this sat on the back burner, though, until 2007, when the pair sat down in earnest to write and record the project. Drafting in drummer Linda Pitmon and longtime friend and guitarist Peter Buck from (R.E.M.), McCaughey and Wynn recorded The Baseball Project, Vol. 1: Frozen Ropes and Dying Quails at Jackpot! Studios with engineer and producer Adam Selzer, and the result is an often tongue-in-cheek set of frequently brilliant narrative songs about baseball legends Jackie Robinson, Ted Williams, Satchel Paige, and others. This isn't a set based on nostalgia, exactly, but is instead a full-blown piece of jangly modern folk-pop, and each song plays like it's an individual piece cut from the same quilt. The songs are witty, varied, and full of more authentic baseball detail than a month of Sunday sports sections, and McCaughey and Wynn are also keenly aware of the broader sociological impact baseball has on the American psyche. "Gratitude," for instance, is a song for Curt Flood, the player who challenged baseball's early plantation structure and single-handedly ushered in the modern era of free agency, a move that effectively ended Flood's playing career but has undeniably benefited every single professional ball player since. Another striking tune here, "Broken Man," is an astute assessment of the public figure of Mark McGwire, who went from being the savior of baseball in 1998 when he was chasing -- and eventually surpassed -- Roger Maris' (and Babe Ruth's, this being the era of the asterisk) single-season home-run record to a pariah a decade or so later after his unconvincing appearance before a Senate committee investigating steroid use in baseball. No, these aren't the kind of songs you sing during the seventh-inning stretch. Perhaps the most striking track here is the brilliant "The Death of Big Ed Delahanty," which could almost be an authorized movie script of Delahanty's life, so detailed are the lyrics. The song itself is the baseball version of an Appalachian murder ballad as it tells the odd and mysterious story of how Delahanty, a slugging left-fielder who played from 1888 to 1903 with Philadelphia, Cleveland, and Washington, met his demise at Niagara Falls in 1903, having apparently been booted off a train for being drunk and disorderly. It makes for a fascinating song, one of many such gems here. Far from being a throwaway side project, this unique album is as refreshing as a gapper to right center, providing, of course, it's your team up at the plate. Such is baseball.

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