I have a completely-filled 120 GB iPod classic, the record crate of the digital age, containing my entire music library. I’m listening to each release in alphabetical order by record title – kind of a virtual archaeological dig. These are my findings.
[Ed.: We have a special treat for you lucky Critical Masses readers today! We’re graced with the presence of guest columnist and Hall of Fame baseball journalist Peter Gammons. He’s also a musician and all-around music nut, and has offered his take on one of his favorite albums, Bronson Arroyo’s Covering the Bases. Take it away Peter!]
As many of you know, I have a passion that comes a close second to covering baseball – music. Because of my association with – OK, let’s call it outright fandom of – the Boston Red Sox, I’m able to to really get involved with the Boston music scene. Sounds weird, right? It turns out a lot of current and ex-Sox have talents that stretch beyond the diamond, artistic ones at that. In fact, Sox GM Theo Epstein, who is also a rabid music fan as well as a heckuva musician, puts on the Hot Stove Cool Music benefit each year, at which I’m often a participant. I don’t want to brag, but I sling a mean Strat when I want to… And I get to play alongside some of the greatest bands Boston – and the planet – has to offer: Buffalo Tom, The Lemonheads, American Hi-Fi, Letters to Cleo’s Kay Hanley – it’s really a dream come true, and it feels so great knowing you’re knocking one out of the park for a great organization, The Foundation to Be Named Later. It probably makes me feel as good as Papi does when he’s tracking a straight A.J. Burnett fastball that catches too much of the plate. But I digress.
I’ve known Bronson Arroyo for quite some time – I’d tracked him a bit as he was starting out with Pittsburgh, but it was really a treat when he came over to Boston on a waiver claim in ’03 and I got to learn what made him tick. We hit it off right away – we both have an unhealthy obsession with Pearl Jam, and I have a close relationship with Eddie Vedder, himself a baseball nut – so there was plenty to talk about. Creed, Staind, Stone Temple Pilots, all the greats were represented – Bronson’s iPod read like an All Star Team roster. At 2004’s Hot Stove Cool Music, Bronson bravely begged to play a tune, and of course we let him, so he and Kevin Millar came up and performed a beautifully reverent version of “Black” from the Pearl Jam classic Ten – it just knocked all our sox off (heh). So it was no surprise when I found out he would release his debut album, Covering the Bases, in 2005. During the All-Star Break, of course.
Look, if you want to get technical, it wasn’t really his album, but an album of covers; however, perusing the tracklist got me more excited than a conversation about WAR with Bill James. And Arroyo is certainly no replacement-level musician, I can tell you. He’s got a top-notch band backing him, and he’s chosen some of the best songs of the past two decades, maybe ever, to tackle. And trust me, his live performance of “Black” was merely the warmup to the recorded version, which is dead on. With pinpoint command, Bronson also nails the Goo Goo Dolls (“Slide”), The Verve Pipe (“The Freshmen”), Fuel (“Shimmer”), and Alice in Chains (“Down in the” … woops … “Hole”), exhibiting a veteran’s grasp of the material and an unshakeable presense.
Look, it’s true that if you want to play with the best, you have to be the best, and Arroyo’s aptitude for ace hooks and unmistakable joy for these tunes have him on the same level as those he’s covering. He’s a dead ringer here for Scott Weiland on his version of “Plush,” and Toad the Wet Sprocket should be paying Bronson royalties for “Something’s Always Wrong,” such is his mastery of the material. Vertical Horizon? Please. “Best I’ve Ever Had” is Bronson’s ace in the hole, if you ask me. In fact, it’s hard to pick a track here that wouldn’t simply brighten your day if you were to hear it, especially in your earbuds while sitting in the bleachers during a Spring Training game in Fort Myers. And for you Sox fans – and who isn’t, really – you get the classic Standells number “Dirty Water,” complete with appearances from Youk, Johnny Damon, and Lenny DiNardo. All in all, you can’t go wrong with such a great compilation.
Although I’m not a big fan of “Hunger Strike.” Never much liked Soundgarden.
RIYL: Pearl Jam, Creed, Alice in Chains