Robert Christgau:
Expert Witness

Baseball Project / Hamell on Trial / Richmond Fontaine / Delines /Stick Against Stone /Ry Cooder /
Modern Baseball


The Baseball Project: 3rd

(Yep Roc)

Threepeats are hard, and some of these songs are soft. In addition to the flabby “Extra Inning of Love,” which I bet is soft two ways, these tend to be about the good guys—Dale Murphy, Bernie Williams, even Babe Ruth, whose personal failings are swallowed up, as the lyric argues, by the size of his myth. Unfortunately, even Henry Aaron’s career-long battle with racism doesn’t make as good a story here as Lenny Dykstra’s hustles or Alex Rodriguez’s conceit or Dock Ellis’s headhunting or Larry Yount’s failure, and when Scott McCaughey croons it only makes things softer. But the songs about fandom—“Stats” and “The Baseball Card Song,” the devotional “Box Scores” and encyclopedic “They Played Baseball”—suit a band of also-rans old enough to treasure their own fans’ rooting interest. And note that none of the five is an Oakland A’s devotee. I’m not either, but Billy Beane was right, and not exactly for the first time, to make their celebration of his franchise the team song. Real fans knew what a great story that team was long before they made a movie out of it. A MINUS


Hamell on Trial:
The Happiest Man in the World

(New West)

Aside from the protest song itself, not a dud in 13, although the rock-and-rolling solo-acoustic leadoff “Artist in America”—“I fought the law and the law won, and my mailbox read Mr. Pitiful. Fulfilling the prophecy of the bad moon on the rise, I had lost my race with the devil, I was moaning at midnight, I was Mr. Dyingly Sad…” —does tend to blow the rest away. So listen up. The album rocks frantically even though there are drums on only two tracks. It includes five songs about the lowlifes he knows so intimately, including the title manifesto and the feminist “Jennifer’s Strippin’ Again.” “Gods at Odds” is feminist, too—matrideistic, even. “Mom’s Hot” features his son Detroit and lusts after women or a woman missing a total of one leg and one breast.
A MINUS


Richmond Fontaine: Winnemucca

(El Cortez ‘02)

I know “saddest album ever made” isn’t much of a sell line, especially from a judge who may never fully penetrate the rest of the forlorn catalogue of Willy Vlautin’s signature band. But I guarantee that this one’s so well put together it’ll lure you to play it over and over. Pretty impressive how tentative hopes like “At least for a while we are out of state/Out of that state” and “And if it’s somewhere, somewhere near/Well at least it’s not here” are dragged down by vocals that fend off depression line by line, how the instrumental “Patty’s Retreat” disintegrates into a chaos guaranteed to drive Americana sentimentalists back into their history-at-a-distance. And “Five Degrees Below Zero,” when Ray Thaves stops the bus in the middle of the desert night and walks in the opposite direction from the Vegas lights without even a coat on, is a suicide you can get with. A MINUS


The Delines: Colfax (El Cortez) Always aiming sweet and never straying saccharine, natural-born Willy Vlautin heroine Amy Boone sings her continuing pain and occasional solace (“Calling In,” “Colfax Avenue,” “Wichita Ain’t So Far Away”) ***

Stick Against Stone Live: The Oregon Bootleg Tapes (Media Groove) As if by magic, at a farmer’s market in Eugene in 1985, Pittsburgh-spawned “cult collective” have a fine old time marshalling their horny punk polyrhythms and brave female singer in support of Leonard Peltier and an autonomous Central America (“Products Throughout the Store,” “Leonard”) **

Ry Cooder and Corridos Famosos: At the Great American Music Hall (Nonesuch/Perro Verde) He’s become a far more ingratiating entertainer since the first time he recorded a live Gary U.S. Bonds cover—also a far more Latino one, in this case Mexican (“El Corrido de Jesse James,” “Wooly Bully”) **

Modern Baseball: You’re Gonna Miss It All (Run for Cover) Tuneful nice-nerd romantic-anxiety rock, which is to say, why sabermetricians don’t get laid (“Fine, Great,” “Going to Bed Now”) **

Follow Robert Christgau on Twitter at @rxgau.
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