the baseball project — vol. 2: high and inside

baseball: west tenn diamond jaxx @ carolina mudcats

The Baseball Project — Vol. 2: High And Inside. Out 3/1, Yep Roc Records.

Sometimes I’m pretty sure that I’m the only person who loved the Baseball Project’s 2009 release Vol. 1: Frozen Ropes & Dying Quails as much as I did; it was in my top 25 for that year. I loved it because it was a smart, nerdy album full of catchy early 90s Athens pop songs about baseball, and it was clearly made by people who loved baseball as much as I did: some of the songs’ subjects were obscure enough to send even me to Wikipedia to find out who they were talking about.

Vol. 2: High And Inside is a little more accessible; with songs about Ichiro and Bill Buckner, Roger Clemens and the Craig Finn-fronted “Don’t Call Them Twinkies” (released as a single last year during the Twins’ playoff tenure), there’s no Harvey Haddix in this one (the Cowboy knew who Harvey Haddix was, but I was totally unsurprised by that; the Cowboy is one of the smartest people I know), but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

The album does start off with “1976”, a tribute to the late Mark Fidrych, the Bird, who probably isn’t a household name for you unless you’re a ’70s baseball buff (like my dear friend Dan), but then it’s pretty well straightforward — they follow “1976” with “Panda and the Freak”, a song that opens with a litany of nicknames and then continues into a celebration of Timmy and Pablo Sandoval and the Giants’ championship. (I’ve been waiting for them to do a nickname song, because they’re so many good ones in baseball, and this one is great, although I feel a mention that Buster Posey’s real name is Gerald was worth thinking about. Because Gerald.)

The funk of “Fair Weather Fans” takes on the problem of being a fan who’s moved around and who just loves baseball; all four members of the band get a verse (Peter Buck would choose the Washington Senators), and cleverly outline the way they’ve grown up with their teams based on where they’ve lived at various times. I understand it — I’m not a fair weather fan for the three years I spent in spitting distance of Wrigley rooting for the Cubs, nor the way I’ve mellowed on the Yankees living with shep. and loving Adam Warren beyond belief, nor the way I root like hell for Tampa Bay’s AAA team, because they’re the ones who are here, even though they share a division with my Orioles. Do I get it? Hell, yes, and the horns, the snapping, and Peter Buck’s tiny spoken interlude just make me love it more.

The sound of the album is more modern, too; it’s less 90s Athens pop and more broad, more deep than the first volume — “Don’t Call Them Twinkies” steals from Craig Finn’s own Hold Steady crunchy guitar sound, and “Chin Music” takes on the album title with a wailing organ and muted guitars, a song dedicated to the art of pitching, well, high and inside. I love hearing a song about something instead of someone in baseball, and the organ and piano are perfect for the chorus. “Pete Rose Way” leans country and “Twilight Of My Career” shines all over with pedal steel and slide guitar, and “The Straw That Stirs The Drink” digs a little funky, a little rocky — perfect for Mr. October.

One of the things I love about the Baseball Project’s songs is picking out the references; the obvious ones, of course, but this album is both more accessible, like I said, and more subtle. A few more first person songs without easy reference to the subject — I like the complexity of figuring out who they’re about.

It’s a great follow-up to a good first effort, and if I have one complaint, it’s this: too many songs about the Red Sox. But I’m a bitter Orioles fan; this is a must have for nerdy baseball indie rock fans, and you can listen to a couple of tracks here until it’s released next week.

And, hey: happy baseball, y’all.

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