Volume 2: High And Inside

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Rock und Baseball - welch eine fruchtbare Kombination! Nur 2 ½ Jahre nach ihrem Überraschungserfolg Vol.1 - Frozen Ropes And Dying Quails kehren ein paar ausgemachte Haudegen des amerikanischen Indie Rocks zurück mit der Fortsetzung ihrer musikalischen Rückschau auf eine der uramerikanischen Sportarten schlechthin und all der prominenten Helden von den Giants, Yankees, Mariners, Twins, Dodgers oder Boston Red Sox. Steve Wynn, Scott McCaughey, Peter Buck und Linda Pitmon sind das BASEBALL PROJECT und Volume 2: High And Inside ist ihr neuester Home Run!

Rock und Baseball - wirkt diese auf den ersten Blick aberwitzige Mischung ein zweites Mal? Keine Frage, an spannenden Themen mangelt es wirklich nicht. Die über 100-jährige Baseball-Historie bietet reichlich Stoff von tragischen Spielen, missglückten Würfen, einmaligen Rekorden, skurrilen Anekdoten und schrägen Sportlerbiografien aus der Baseball Hall of Fame. Und die Band? Ist tatsächlich in der Zwischenzeit eine echte geworden! Nachdem die Vier vor den Aufnahmen zu ihrem Debütalbum noch nie in dieser Besetzung zusammen gespielt hatten, sind sie danach durch mehrfaches Touren, Auftritten bei David Letterman und im wöchentlichen Major League-Programm "This Week In Baseball" schon fast zu einer regelrechten "Rockmaschine" gewachsen. Der seit langem mit Blue Rose verbandelte Steve Wynn gehört seit 30 Jahren zum Establishment des guten alten Indie Rock (Miracle 3, Dream Syndicate, Danny & Dusty, Gutterball) und muss hier niemandem mehr vorgestellt werden. Er ist für die Hälfte des Baseball Project-Materials zuständig, spielt Gitarre und singt seine Stücke. Die übrigen Songs stammen vom zweiten Baseball-Verrückten, der Pacific Northwest-Ikone Scott McCaughey. Mitte der 80er tauchte sein Name erstmalig als Boss der Young Fresh Fellows auf. Danach war er maßgeblich an solch unterschiedlichen Gruppierungen wie The Minus 5 und Tuatara beteiligt, ist auf Platten von Mudhoney bis Walkabouts notiert. Seit 15 Jahren zählt er als Keyboarder und Gitarrist fest zur Touring Band von R.E.M. und spielt seither auch auf deren Studio-CDs! McCaughey fungiert beim Baseball Project als Songwriter, Sänger und Multiinstrumentalist zwischen Saiten und Tasten. Außerdem ist er verantwortlich für die Verbindung zu R.E.M.-Gitarrist Peter Buck, mit dem er hauptamtlich The Minus 5 betreibt. Buck beschränkt sich weitgehend auf die Bassgitarre und brilliert zwischendurch mit dem ja auch von R.E.M. hinreichend bekannten twangy Rickenbacker Sound, z.B. gleich auf dem Opener '1976'. Linda Pitmon (Miracle 3, Golden Smog), Steve Wynn's langjährige Partnerin und Ehefrau, sitzt wie gewohnt hinterm Schlagzeug, outet sich als Fan der Minnesota Twins und singt darüber in einer Strophe zu 'Fair Weather Fans'.

Aber die vier Hobby-Pitcher erweisen sich nicht nur als ausgewiesene Baseball-Insider, bei aller Fachsimpelei (und die ist neben den Texten genauestens im Booklet dokumentiert!) haben wir es hier natürlich in erster Linie mit Rockmusik zu tun! Und die ist auf Volume 2 deutlich vielseitiger geraten. Zu der bekannten und erwarteten Mischung aus Guitar Pop, Indie Rock, 60s Garage und Power Pop mit Titeln wie '1976', 'Panda And The Freak', 'Ichiro Goes To The Moon' und 'Look Out Mom' kommen hier noch Alt.Country mit Dobro, Banjo und Lap Steel ('Pete Rose Way', 'Here Lies Carl Mays'), lässig verschlurfter Danny & Dusty-style Bar Rock ('Chin Music'), 70er Country Rock mit Pedal Steel ('Twilight Of My Career') und Folk Rock-Drama mit exzentrischer Fiddle auf 'Tony (Boston's Chosen Son)' hinzu. Andere Besonderheiten sind das sich über fast 6 Minuten in der Tat Bolero-haft aufschaukelnde 'Buckner's Bolero', das als melodische Ballade beginnt und im nervösen Feedback-Gewitter endet, und der herrlich bretternde, Replacements-artige Fuzz'n Roll von 'Don't Call Them Twinkies', einer Kollaboration von Steve Wynn mit Craig Finn, bei dem der Frontmann von The Hold Steady grandios die Lead Vocals übernimmt! Und der ist nicht der einzige Special Guest auf diesem Album: So ist Steve Berlin (Los Lobos) am Baritonsaxofon und an der Farfisa Orgel zu hören, Chris Funk (Lap Steel, Dobro, Banjo) und John Moen (Backing Vocals) von den Decemberists wirken mit, genauso wie Ira Kaplin (Feedback Guitar) von Yo La Tengo, Paul Brainard (Richmond Fontaine) mit Pedal Steel oder Trompete, Steve Wynn's langjähriger Weggenosse Robert Lloyd (Keyboards), Geiger Rodrigo D'Erasmo vom Dragon Bridge Orchestra auf dem erwähnten Bolero und Death Cab For Cutie-Mastermind Ben Gibbard mit weiteren Backing Vocals.


What happens when your band's debut album is a run-scoring hit with both music and baseball fans? If you're THE BASEBALL PROJECT, you grab some friends to fill out your bench, take batting practice by writing songs for ESPN and deliver a strikeout pitch with Volume Two: High and Inside. The new album from Steve Wynn, Scott McCaughey, Linda Pitmon and Peter Buck is another winning collection of songs about the game's greats that will be pleasing to those who love America's pastime -- and fans of intelligent, melodic and fun rock.

When the first Baseball Project album, Volume One: Frozen Ropes and Dying Quails, was released in 2008, Wynn, McCaughey, Pitmon and Buck had yet to play one note as a unit in front of an audience. But after playing throughout the U.S. in 2009 the quartet were - as McCaughey jokes - "a well-oiled touring machine," which allowed the band to complete the basics for this new album in just two days. Wynn adds, "We definitely knew how to play as a band when we went in this time and I think you can hear that chemistry on the record."

High and Inside is a collection that sees the quartet deftly mix witty lyrics about baseball players past and present with a sharp melodic sensibility and engaging choruses. Opener "1976" is one of the catchiest songs to ever be written about anything from Detroit. (In this case, it's Tigers phenom pitcher Mark "The Bird" Fidrych.) "Ichiro Goes to the Moon" is a manic punk-pop track that marvels at the Seattle Mariners outfielder's ability to eat, build rockets, and yes, play baseball. High and Inside also explores more musical avenues than the first Baseball Project outing. "Pete Rose Way" is a slice of alt-country that echoes one of McCaughey's and Buck's other projects, Tired Pony. And closer "Here Lies Carl Mays" takes the story of the only pitcher to throw a ball that killed another player and turns it into a haunting ballad sung from beyond the grave.

"Fair Weather Fans" describes the band's widespread allegiances to the Giants, A's and Mariners for McCaughey, the Dodgers and Yankees for Wynn, and the Twins and Yankees for Pitmon. Yet the team most represented on High and Inside is none of those -- it's the Yankees' rivals the Boston Red Sox. McCaughey imagines a world where Bill Buckner's legacy wasn't tarnished by a groundball in "Buckner's Bolero." Wynn sings of a different tarnished legacy in "Twilight of My Career," which explores the glorious but sordid post-Sox career of Cy Young award-winning pitcher Roger Clemens. And "Tony (Boston's Chosen Son)" is a violin-driven piece that recalls Bob Dylan's Desire as it honors late beloved Boston player and announcer Tony Conigliaro. Wynn admits, "It's weird that a Yankee fan like me would end up writing more about the Red Sox, but tragedy just makes for better songs and stories than a litany of successes."

The quartet invited a lot of their friends to help out on Volume 2. Wynn explains, "We had wanted to include some like-minded baseball rocker pals on the first record but there just wasn't time so we were able to open the door this time around." Into that open door came contributions from Death Cab for Cutie's Ben Gibbard (who adds backing vocals to "Ichiro Goes to the Moon"), Los Lobos' Steve Berlin, The Decemberists' Chris Funk and John Moen, Yo La Tengo's Ira Kaplan and The Hold Steady's Craig Finn, who supplies lyrics and the lead vocal on the Minnesota Twins anthem "Please Don't Call Them Twinkies." Twins fan Pitmon had bonded with Finn over the team when the Minnesota natives reconnected in New York. And Pitmon says she was thrilled when Finn accepted the job of writing lyrics about their favorite team. She explains, "I think Craig perfectly captured the feelings that a lot of us Twins fans have for our team of humble, hardworking guys that seem to beat the odds more often than not, and Steve really nailed the mood of the lyrics when he wrote the anthemic tune we set it to." Finn says, "The Twins don't win every year, or even every decade. They don't normally compete in the off-season arms race -- they develop talent. Thus, when they do win I get to feel elation and bliss, and not just relief. In some way, it's like music; many of my all-time favorite bands aren't that great every night, but when it comes together it feels even sweeter."

The success and critical acclaim of Volume One opened up new opportunities that these veteran musicians never imagined. McCaughey is still amazed they appeared on the long-running weekly Major League Baseball program This Week in Baseball. "I can't say I ever thought I'd hear or see myself on TWIB - that was awesome," McCaughey exclaims. "As a kid I dreamed of it, but I would have been making a diving catch in the outfield instead of bashing on an electric guitar." The band also struck up a relationship with ESPN that saw them launch The Broadside Ballads series. Wynn and McCaughey took it upon themselves to write and record a song per month for the 2010 season that were available as free downloads at ESPN.com. Wynn says, "It's very exhilarating and also exhausting to come up with tunes based on the calendar rather than the muse, especially since we were all busy and on the move with our own projects throughout 2010 but that made it even more fun. I loved that songs would begin in Virginia, for example, get shuttled off to Berlin, back to New York and then over to Portland all within a few weeks."

The Baseball Project was born out of McCaughey and Wynn discussing their love of the game over dinner and drinks a few years ago. "It finally took flight at the R.E.M. pre-Hall of Fame induction party in New York," Wynn remembers. "Everyone was happy. The wine was flowing, the food was incredible and spring training had just started. Scott and I talked baseball until most of the party guests had cleared out. And we actually remembered it the next day."

Both Wynn and McCaughey's love of baseball and its legendary players made its way sporadically into songs during their distinguished careers. The Young Fresh Fellows named-checked Seattle Mariners slugger Gorman Thomas on "Aurora Bridge" from 1986's Refreshments, while Wynn tipped his cap to Hall of Famers Mickey Mantle and Stan Musial in his 1990 solo hit "Kerosene Man."

So with another Volume down, the question needs to be asked - will there be a Volume 3? McCaughey says it's a certainty, since he still wants to write tunes about "Ted Kubiak, Butch Huskey, Don McMahon, Don Moss, Kris "Iron Man" Benson and Wilton "Peanuts" Guerrero." Wynn adds, "Just open the Baseball Encyclopedia or the 2011 MLB press guide to any page. There are still plenty of tales to tell."

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Volume 2: High And Inside
BASEBALL PROJECT
Volume 2: High And Inside
CD
BLU DP0537
€ 5.90



1. 1976
2. Panda And The Freak
3. Fair Weather Fans
4. Don't Call Them Twinkies
5. Chin Music
6. Buckner's Bolero
7. Tony (Boston's Chosen Son)
8. Ichiro Goes To The Moon
9. The Straw That Stirs The Drink
10. Look Out Mom
11. Pete Rose Way
12. Twilight Of My Career
13. Here Lies Carl Mays