ALBUM REVIEW: The Baseball Project – Grand Salami Time

4.0 rating
the baseball project

“Hey, batter, batter, batter, batter, batter! Swing, batter!”. Those of a certain age will know this line from John Hughes’ 1986 classic movie ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’. For many in the UK, that is about as close to baseball as possible. Despite originating in the United Kingdom and being actively promoted here in recent years, we seem to have opted for cricket instead.

Baseball is the national pastime in the good old US of A. Many get sucked into the game’s nuances and become obsessed with its cornucopia of statistics – there are so many you could fill Yankee Stadium with them (or Truist Park if you are an Atlanta Braves fan like me). So, it is little wonder a band of musicians would come together to create songs about the sport. Not in a novelty Chas & Dave sort of way, though.

This five-piece band certainly have some pedigree throughout their ranks. Steve Wynn of The Dream Syndicate takes on some of the vocals and guitar. Peter Buck of R.E.M. fame belts out his unique guitar stylings, supported by Scott McCaughey of Young Fresh Fellows (also an auxiliary member of R.E.M. for 17 years), who also takes lead vocals for a couple of songs. Multi-instrumentalist Mike Mills, also of R.E.M. renown, adds his superbly polished talents on bass, and Linda Pitmon of Filthy Friends sits at the drum kit. Also, the album is co-produced by the legendary Mitch Easter too. This is Major League, not Single-A minors here. Be warned; this review will have further baseball metaphors and analogies.

This is the band’s fourth album since they sent out their first pitch with Frozen Ropes and Dying Quails in 2008. Although every track on Grand Salami Time is about the game of baseball, its players, the commentators and even a riot, you don’t have to be a baseball fan to appreciate them. Many of the songs could be written about other sports and their issues with a few subtle tweaks.

Take the opening track as a good example of this. ‘Grand Salami Time’ is an ode to the Seattle Mariners play-by-play announcer, Dave Niehaus. “Get out the rye bread and the mustard this time, Grandma! It’s Grand Salami Time!” was uttered by Niehaus whenever the Mariners hit a home run. You could make a similar song about the legendary darts commentator Sid Waddell. The song is a fun, catchy romp with an early 80s punk vibe. Scott McCaughey’s vocal has a passing resemblance to Sparks’ Russell Mael.

‘The All Or Nothings” is a Ramones/R.E.M.ish/Young Fresh Fellowsesque song to get the head bobbing. The track looks at those players who would excite you with their home run hitting but frustrate you with their regular strikeouts. Many sports have such characters, either hero or zero, and you never know what you will get from day to day.

While there are many up-tempo guitar rock songs on the album, there are some variations of pace. This band can throw the changeup, it seems. ‘Journeyman’ tells the tale of the player that goes from club to club, doing a job and then moving on. “Always keep my bags packed/Never get too close to anyone/As long as there’s someone who needs me/ Down the road, I go” echoes the tale of many people who have roamed in search of work. For some folk, it is the preferred choice. The global workforce has never been as transient as today, especially in sports. The song has a R.E.M. Reveal album feeling to it, which is no bad thing.

‘Screwball’ is another belter, which sees Peter Buck dig out his finest jangly guitar sound à la The Byrds. This 60s feeling song tells us that we should celebrate being different, not conforming to what is acceptable or correct. “Screwball, being different is weird”, sings McCaughey in this rallying call to being distinctive and unique.

Throwing a curveball, we also get a beautiful track with a Willie Nelson vibe to it. ‘That’s Living’ tells the sad story of the Miami Marlins pitcher José Fernández who died in a boat accident in 2016. He piloted a 32-foot boat into a jetty off Miami Beach at around 65mph and was found dead with two other people. When you are young, you often feel invincible and crave excitement. You want to feel alive. This is an ode to that feeling. “But a life of caution isn’t for the young/We only get a little time, ya gotta have a lot of fun/The ways you push the limits and test the edge/Without those moments you may as well be dead/That’s living”. Quite.

I chuckled on hearing ‘The Yips’ as all I could hear was ‘Yipps (My Baby Got the)’ by Half Man Half Biscuit. That’s two songs I know of about this condition now. Don’t you love music? The Mayo Clinic describes the yips as “involuntary wrist spasms that occur most commonly when golfers try to putt. It can affect people who play other sports — such as cricket, darts and baseball.” Another school day. The song has a DIY punk sound but with a little too much reverb on Wynn’s vocal, which does dirty home plate a little.

‘Disco Demolition’ is a lovely boogie-inspiring, thick slice of funk and disco telling the story of a riot at Comiskey Park, home of the Chicago White Sox, in July 1979. Steve Dahl, a Chicago DJ, had been fired by a local radio station when the station transitioned to an all-disco format. Dahl began a crusade against disco music and took to the field during the break of a double-header (two games back-to-back) to blow up boxes of disco records, with the stadium owner’s permission (it was an attempt to increase the crowd). People swamped the field of play, and the second game was abandoned on safety grounds. White Sox pitcher Rich Wortham, a Texan who preferred country music over disco, told the Chicago Tribune that “this wouldn’t have happened if they had a country and western night.” Brilliant!

Baseball is big in Japan, and many players from the country have found themselves playing Major League Baseball in the States. As a tribute to two of them, ‘New Oh In Town’ sings the praises of pitcher Shohei Ohtani and slugger Sadaharu Oh. Why? Why not! Again, there’s an early 80s punk/new wave feel to the track, and the chorus is an earworm waiting to happen.

‘Having Fun’ has a lovely melody with a ‘Near Wild Heaven’ feel. The song asks a serious question – where have all the interesting players gone? Many ask this about football in the UK. Those quirky, unique talents have disappeared, replaced with robotic professionals with media training. Data and its analysis are the focus now. “I remember when the players were all having fun/Loose and messing around in the sun”, opines Wynn, shedding a tear for happier, more carefree times. Too much at stake financially these days for fun and games, I fear.

I put too much thought into Fantasy Football and usually do badly anyway. If you get hooked on Fantasy Baseball, it is even worse. There are the reams of statistics, for starters. This song tells a tale of love and loss. A couple fell in love over their enjoyment of baseball. He becomes a Fantasy Baseball devotee. She becomes a ‘Fantasy Baseball Widow’. Despite her best efforts, he doesn’t understand her needs. So, in true musical tradition, she buggers off and meets someone else who loves the game of baseball, not the make-believe of fantasy sports. You see, you can make a sad love song about baseball. If you write it, they will come.

Even the best of us has a weakness. I have my fair share. There’s always a weak spot in the toughest opponents, even if it can be hard to find. But once found, you can suck the confidence and belief from someone, especially in sports. Stuart Broad vs David Warner in international cricket, for example. Some pitchers make batters look foolish. Some batters can turn a pitcher’s arm to jelly by taking the plate. ‘Uncle Charlie’ explores this with another slice of 60s feel American, with Wynn doing a fair impression of Bob Dylan.

‘The Voice Of Baseball’ pays tribute to the legendary commentator Vin Scully with a Steve Harley retro ambience. ’64 And 64′ tells the story of New York Yankees pitcher Jim Bouton and his varied career – including upsetting baseball’s top brass with a ‘warts and all’ book about his one season with the Seattle Pilots.

With a Rolling Stones’ Brown Sugar’ air, ‘Erasable Man’ spotlights those who become a fleeting memory, with little evidence to show who they were and what they may have achieved. Finally, ‘Stuff’ sees Linda Pitmon let loose with big, dark-sounding, throbbing drumbeats, rumbling along with sinister vocals from Mills and eerie guitars to complete the mood. It’s all about pitchers cheating by adding substances to the ball to make it do different things. The same issue exists in cricket. Just don’t be the one who gets caught.

Grand Salami Time is an odd album but in a good way. It certainly is a grower as you get your head around the baseball theme and see past it to the underlying subjects of each song. It’s not all balls, bats and bases. Don’t bunt this away if you are not a baseball fan. You don’t need to be. Sure, I can see how it may have extra appeal to those who love seeing a well-executed triple-play, but the themes are interchangeable to lesser and greater degrees. Let the music grab you and take you on a journey around the bases. You may see it for the home run it is – or at least score it as a triple.

You get the feeling The Baseball Project enjoyed making this album. There’s a lot to be said about having fun. In this case, it is not at the expense of quality. Go on, take a swing at it. I shall leave the final words to Vin Scully (‘The Voice Of Baseball’) – “Be a bobbed cork: When you are pushed down, bob up.”

 

Xsnoize Author
Iam Burn 40 Articles
Iam Burn is a photographer based in the North East of England. Fave bands: R.E.M, The Lovely Eggs, Half Man Half Biscuit, Madness, Inspiral Carpets, Billy Bragg, The Pogues, The Proclaimers, The Ukrainians, They Might Be Giants, The Chats, Matt Berry, Lead Belly, Grace Petrie, The Beautiful South, Carter USM… and many more! Favourite album: Impossible to choose but Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables by Dead Kennedys is pretty awesome. Most embarrassing record still in my collection: Hole in my Shoe by Neil.

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