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Frozen Ropes and Dying Quails 

By The Baseball Project. Yep Roc Records.

The merger of Scott McCaughey from Minus 5 and Steve Wynn, former leader of the LA-based ’80s band the Dream Syndicate, makes for a perfect doubleheader. Together, the songwriters have culled baseball folklore, stories and forgotten personalities to inspire a new album that, to borrow baseball verbiage, goes the distance. With the contributions of REM/Minus 5 guitarist Pete Buck and drummer Linda Pitmon, the stories are fleshed out in music and the music rocks, with the loose spontaneity and tight playing of a killer band.

McCaughey is a walking "project," soliciting the aid of Pete Buck, John Wesley Harding and Wilco band members, among others, to present 2006's Minus 5 release, best known as The Gun Album. Wynn has also a long history of collaborating on side projects, from Danny and Dusty (with Green on Red's Danny Stuart) to Gutterball (with members of The Long Ryders and House of Freaks). In their respective solo work, they've both displayed similar roots in rock, alt. country and folk, all infused with a strong garage sensibility. So McCaughey and Wynn's collaboration seems a natural.

The songwriting duties are split between them. In the opening cut, "Past Time," with a dense Neil Young/Crazy Horse wall of guitars, McCaughey asks, is it necessary to care about baseball lore, "So long ago, so long, Pastime, are you past your prime?" He would later answer that question with his song, "Satchel Paige Said," about the legendary Negro League/Major League pitcher. "No one ever did what he has done. And we don't look back..."

It is Wynn, however, who blasts a number of songs over the fence, so to speak. From his hilarious "Ted Fucking Williams," quoting Boston Red Sox outfielder (and arguably one of the best batters in Major League baseball), to "Gratitude (For Curt Flood)," set to a monster-movie-soundtrack, about the outspoken centerfielder Curt Flood, Wynn delivers musical fastballs with engaging, and often ironic, narratives. His "curveball" arrives with the stunning "Fernando," sung entirely in Spanish, paying tribute to the amazing Mexican L.A. Dodgers pitcher, Fernando Valenzuela. It's executed with sincere tenderness and affection, accompanied by McCaughey's Norteño-like accordion part.

McCaughey and Wynn's reflections on baseball and its folklore suggest that we indeed need to "look back" upon our cultural history, by looking at the enormous amount of stories of forgotten participants. And all the while, they turn up the instruments, allowing the rough edges to the foreground. No one will mistake this for John Fogerty; this ain't no Centerfield. The first volume of The Baseball Project is a deep shot over the left field fence.

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Mark Shikuma

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