Various Artists

Hot Stove, Cool Music, Vol. 1

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The only thing worse than a concept album is a concept album for which the unifying concept is sports, right? That's pretty much a given. But if your label is named after one of the most beloved baseball stadiums in North America, you can be forgiven for giving in to the temptation. And in this case, the folks at Fenway have actually improved on the whole concept-album idea significantly by making this one a charity effort with a baseball theme. Named after the annual benefit concert that takes place each January in Boston on behalf of the Jimmy Fund (for cancer research), Hot Stove, Cool Music, Vol. 1 features a wide variety of material, some of it sent in from a distance (Pearl Jam's live performance of "Bu$hleaguer," Paul Westerberg's "Outta My System") but most of it home-grown. Highlights in the latter category include two brilliant performances by ex-Letters to Cleo vocalist Kay Hanley (leading her own band on a wonderfully gritty power pop number called "Your Summer Baby" and then fronting local punk legends the Dropkick Murphys on "Dirty Glass") and American Hi-Fi's blistering live performance of "Hi-Fi Killer." The curiosities on the program are the songs by bands that include professional ballplayers (most of them are actually pretty good) and a cover of Chuck Berry's "Carol" by sportswriter and ESPN on-air baseball analyst Peter Gammons. These tracks don't make the album great, but they don't detract from it either. Recommended.

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