"Black" Jack McDowell certainly has the resumé to be a rock & roller. Once a standout pitcher for baseball's perennial powerhouse, the New York Yankees, McDowell once showed his dissatisfaction with the shower of boos he was receiving by flipping the bird to the entire home stadium. These days, his middle finger is a bit more busy trying to convert some baseball aficionados into Stickfigure fans, and he has a good chance. Out of the myriad of athletes that have tried to make the crossover from sports to mainstream music without getting laughed out of the studio, McDowell knows his instrument and his niche -- straight-up rock with an occasional pop chaser -- well enough to make it home safe. Especially since his latest joint, Ape of the Kings, has very few curveballs (OK, that's my last baseball joke, promise). Mostly old-school rock with some jagged punk edges here and there, Ape is the kind of bang-your-head-softly collection that will reward fans of guitars of all stripes. "Wedded Show" is a full-steam rocker that wavers between the Foo Fighters' restrained rage and the Knack's descending progressions. "No One Has to Know" is a bouncy stomp, while "The Grave" is McDowell's anthemic declaration of independence ("Let me be what I wanna be/Feel what I wanna feel/See how I wanna see/Believe what I know is real"). Its Blue Oyster Cult-like finale fits in nicely with Ape's across-the-board artistic striving. But things really get kicking on "One Down," a downstrum-heavy rumination on what it feels like to run out of time. And while some of the more poppy offerings -- such as "Hey Man," where McDowell sounds uncannily like XTC's Andy Partridge -- fall a bit flat in light of Ape of the Kings' more compelling rock leanings, the album ought to make the AOR crowd happy enough to forget about it.
AllMusic Review by Scott Thill