Think of The Baseball Project less as an indie-rock all-star team than as a bunch of aging veterans proving they still have the stuff. Co-leaders Scott McCaughey and Steve Wynn, best-known for 20th century stints in the alt-rock groups Young Fresh Fellows and The Dream Syndicate, share more than a musical history. As devout baseball fans, they share an American mythology.
Also featuring R.E.M.'s Peter Buck on bass and drummer Linda Pitmon, The Baseball Project writes topical songs that honor cultural memory, with music that's tuneful rather than forward-looking. Their new album, Volume 2: High and Inside, opens with "1976" — a song inspired by the 2009 death of colorful 1976 Rookie of the Year Mark Fidrych, who soon succumbed to injuries but was never forgotten by the faithful.
Wynn and McCaughey still follow the game — High and Inside includes nods to Seattle sure-shot Hall of Famer Ichiro Suzuki and San Francisco phenoms Pablo Sandoval and Tim Lincecum. But as they age, they have more to mull over.
One of the truest fan songs here is "Buckner's Bolero" — a catalog of all the other mishaps that cost the Red Sox the 1986 World Series, which most people remember solely for a missed ground ball by first baseman Bill Buckner. Elsewhere come surprisingly serious meditations on mortality, including a finale that examines the 1920 beaning of Ray Chapman, the only MLB player ever killed by an in-game injury.
These guys think baseball is fun, for sure. But as demonstrated on the team-loyalty anthem "Fair Weather Fans," they also take it seriously. "A fair weather fan is not what I am," goes the proud refrain, "even though my ZIP code has changed."