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March 31, 2006

CD Review: Covering the Bases

Covering the Bases by Bronson Arroyo
Bronson Arroyo Productions, LLC/ Manufactured and distributed by Asylum Records

So we had Bronson Arroyo on the payroll for, what, 12 hours before Doc Scott at Reds & Blues felt the need to make some demeaning comment insinuating that Red Hot Mama has nothing better to do than to review players' music CDs?

Dammit, I wish I'd said it first. It's so much cooler to be self-effacing than to be effaced by someone else.

Bronson Arroyo's Covering the Bases is a collection of covers of 12 of his favorite songs from the 90s. Now, I was almost ready to forgive him for that until I saw this among his thank yous in the liner notes:

To my sister, Serenity, for never getting me into music in the eighties and ruining my musical taste.

What a punk. Doesn't he know it takes a real man to cover Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go?

But I digress. Arroyo is an above-average singer. You know how when you hear someone singing badly, you just want to cringe in embarrassment on their behalf? I never even once wanted to do that while listening to this CD. Occasionally he slips into impersonating the original singers instead of giving his own original rendition of the hits, but that's not really bad.

And if Mr. Arroyo had to cover 90s music, he at least chose some of the more palatable tunes from that era. Tracks include:

  • Slide by the Goo Goo Dolls
  • Down in the Hole by Alice in Chains
  • The Freshmen by The Verve Pipe
  • Everlong by The Foo Fighters with additional spoken-word lyrics by Stephen King. No word on whether the proceeds went toward the continuing fight against foo.
  • Black by Pearl Jam
  • Pardon Me by Incubus
  • Something's Always Wrong by Toad the Wet Sprocket
  • Plush by Stone Temple Pilots. This version is loads better than Jeff Conine's on Oh Say Can You Sing?.
  • Shimmer by Fuel
  • Hunger Strike by Temple of the Dog
  • Best I've Ever Had (Grey Sky Morning) by Vertical Horizon
  • Dirty Water by The Standells

That last one is an interesting one. Whereas the rest of the tracks are pretty standard fare Seattle alternative, Dirty Water is a bunch of New England jingoism that features several of Arroyo's then-teammates singing about what they like best about Boston. It's a stylistic departure from the rest of the album, and the comment about it in the liner notes is distinctly sparser than for the rest of the tracks. Despite its theme, it seems like an utterly replaceable track. I think that in future releases, he ought to slip in a cover of This One Belongs to the Reds instead.

In summary, Covering the Bases is a solid piece of music work and a nice addition to musical collection of any grunge and post-grunge era baseball fan. Those of us hoping for an album of covers of Wham! songs will just have to wait until Jim Edmonds comes out with an album.

March 29, 2006

Book Review: Tom Browning’s Tales from the Reds Dugout

Tom Browning's Tales from the Reds Dugout by Tom Browning with Dann Stupp
Sports Publishing LLC
ISBN 1-59670-046-7
US $19.95

Tales from the DugoutTales from the Dugout is a series of very short vignettes from the life of Tom Browning. And I mean really short. I think that one of them is only a paragraph long. There isn't a single two-page spread in the whole thing that doesn't include a heading to denote a new section, and I think that one of the most challenging parts of putting together this tome must have been coming up with the text for all the subheads. Which is really a shame, because I wasn't very far into the book at all before I was skipping the subheads entirely. The chunky format is perfect for the bathroom but a little too choppy for the armchair.

As a person who's followed the team and the sport for only about six years, I had a little trouble keeping all of the names straight, especially when Browning started referring to players and coaches by their nicknames. I imagine most people likely to pick up this book wouldn't have any trouble with that part. Nevertheless, if you plan to give this book to the newly initiated, making a handy quick reference card with the names, nicknames, bio information, historical significance, and perhaps a full-color sketch of the characters would most surely be appreciated by the recipient.

The book starts off slowly. It has a lot of summary about Browning's childhood in Wyoming that's short on dialog and descriptive language. Tom Browning, a baseball player, created this book in collaboration with Dann Stupp, a creative services manager for the Reds who, in his bio, lists his SABR membership before his journalism degree. Reading through the first few chapters, I couldn't help but think that despite the fact that this book had two authors, it really could have used a writer.

But starting around chapter four, The Brink of the Bigs, the book started to change my mind. The only perfect game in Reds' history, the 1990 wire-to-wire season, the fall of Pete Rose--these are such compelling stories that it doesn't really matter how they're told. But in this case the telling makes the stories shine. Browning's voice is warm and personal. There's not a hint of the jaded been there, done that that you might expect; Browning's inner child is alive and well and still a Reds' fan.

Browning has been hanging with the team this spring. He's one of the veterans that owner Bob Castellini has brought in as part of the Power of Tradition drum he's beating. And some parts of the book come off like Browning's direct advice to the 2006 team. Consider his assessment of the 1990 team from page 136:

Other teams may have scored more runs, but we seemed to score them when they mattered most….And I can't think of a team deeper or more balanced than our squad.

As in so many cases, just learning about the characters involved in a story makes the story more relevant. Finding out how much Browning respected Lou Piniella made me more intrigued by the possibility of bringing him back as manager. Learning about Pete Rose made me more sympathetic to his plight and what he did to baseball. Reading first case accounts of interactions with Marge Schott made me generally more horrified. And, apparently, reading about Bip Roberts (recipient of the B.I.P Body In Pain award for his regular complaints about minor ailments) has made me feel more melodramatic.

But my stoic side liked the book too. It's a quick, entertaining read, and having it on your shelf (or back of the commode) will demonstrate to all your houseguests the depth of your Reds fandom. Add in those full-color sketches, and no one in the tri-state area will doubt your Power of Tradition.

The good people at Sports Publishing LLC would like you to know that Tales is available for $19.95 from:

  • At major chain and independent bookstores (Borders, Barnes&Nobel, Waldenbooks, etc.)
  • By calling Sports Publishing toll-free 24-hours-a-day at 1-877-424-BOOK in the continental US (217-363-2072 outside the continental US)
  • Online at

P.S. When the movie version comes out, allow me to recommend David Denman for the leading role.

October 5, 2005

CD Review: Finding My Way

Finding My Way by Raquel Aurilia
Shea Records
When I reviewed the single of The Need that I picked up at Great American Ball Park in exchange for a donation to the Red Cross, I promised a review of the full album “in the coming weeks.”

It's been four weeks. The leaves are turning on the trees and the geese are heading south. The Reds' season has been over for, let's face it, a long time, and it's a very real possibility that in a matter of days, the Reds-connection to this album could be severed.

At least I didn't promise it “in the coming days.”

In my defense, though, the reason for the delay was because I had so much in-depth research to do. Research that included such important tasks as:

  • Identifying the singers in the pretend band Trip Cyclone. (This turned out to be a dead end, but I do recommend playing Harvest of Souls if you're into that kind of thing.)
  • Renting the movie Sweet November and fast-forwarding/rewinding through it three times in the desperate pursuit of a scene featuring a “cute cashier.”
  • Trying to write intelligent and clever interview questions for Ms. Aurilia, who graciously agreed to answer them even as she packed up all her stuff to move.

You'll see how all that worked out when I post the entire interview in the coming days. Or, when I post it again at the beginning of next season. Hopefully there will still be a Reds connection then. Hey, shut up: I hope there will be.

In the meantime, I'd best get down to the long-awaited review.

Finding My Way by Raquel AuriliaFinding My Way is a very clean, well-produced album that offers a lot to like in almost its every aspect. Raquel's voice is interesting and unusual, but in a good way, as is her sense of rhythm and phrasing. Her vocal versatility is even more impressive than the photos from her CD launch party, and that's saying something, since Paula Benard of General Hopsital fame appears in one of them.

Raquel describes Finding My Way as having “different styles of music with each song,” including R&B, rock, pop, and A/C. Indeed, this album does contain a striking amount of variety. Each time you listen to it, you're likely to notice some different surprising harmony or understand some new interpretation of the lyrics. It's a professional, sophisticated piece of work.

The tracks on Finding My Way include two remakes that you'll certainly recognize: the activist rally hymn “For What It's Worth” made famous by Buffalo Springfield, and the family classic “Dream Weaver” made famous by, as I recall, Wayne's World. While the remakes are probably my least favorite tracks, Raquel was intelligent to select such likeable songs to cover. Party on.

The other tracks on the album are originals selected for their “feel” and “great lyrics.” Though Raquel did not write the tracks on Finding My Way, she worked together with her producer, Tony Papa (you may recognize his name in association with Survivor, James Brown, and, most importantly, “Weird Al” Yankovic) to select songs that she admired and related to.

Personally, I thought the song selection was excellent. My favorite track, “Where Was I,” tells the story of lost love. But instead of indulging in self-pity, this story's narrator regrets that her own neglect was the cause of the break-up. That's pretty unusual to begin with, but to have that story told by a woman well, I just can't think of another time that I've heard a woman sing that tune. Though, admittedly, that was not part of my in-depth research.

Raquel says that her future albums may contain songs she writes herself. I think they could be pretty good, assuming that a woman as beautiful and talented as Raquel has had enough suffering in her lifetime from which to draw her art. She did tell me that she had a failed high school romance once, so we have that to look forward to.

The songs on Finding My Way touch on a variety of topics, some of them kinda dark. Treacherous friends, cheating lovers, and addictive personalities all make an appearance, but the bummer themes are set off with an over-arching message that things will get better. Certainly a message of relevance to Reds fans everywhere.

So, if you could use a ray of hope in your dreary existence, Finding My Way might just be what you're looking for. Check it out on,, and Or, if you're going to be in Arizona anyway, why not check out the real deal in person? Raquel will be performing in the coming months at a bar called “The Mint” on October 14, and opening for B.B. King at the Dodge Theatre on December 29.

September 15, 2005

CD Review: The Need

The Need by Raquel Aurilia
Pre-Shrunk Music/Epdog Music

The lucky first 300 fans to line up at the Reds Community Fund booth before Saturday's game had the opportunity to walk away with a CD single in exchange for a donation of $5 or more.

The single features the lovely Raquel Aurilia, wife of Cincinnati Reds' infielder Rich Aurilia, singing The Need, a track from her debut album, Finding My Way. Money collected for the CDs was donated to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund.

The Need is a sweet, simple ballad that has many of the attributes of pallatable Christian contemporary cross-over hits. Its we-all-need-God theme is discernable but not overbearing. The accompaniment and background vocals are vaguely churchy, but the fun, relaxed church where the pastor wears jeans and the youth group performs comedy skits about spreading the good news. And, most importantly, it features a sexy but wholesome performer.

Looking at Aurilia's website, I was surprised to find that the entire album does not appear to share the spiritual focus of this single. I'll know for sure when I get my copy, hopefully in the next few days. Look for my impressions on that in the coming weeks.

If you just can't wait that long, the album is available at,, and, linked from the website above.

July 1, 2005

CD Review: Oh Say Can You Sing?

Oh Say Can You Sing? Music Recordings by Major League Players
Good Sports Recordings, Inc

Oh Say Can You Sing?The promotional e-mail I received about Oh Say says “One listen to the disc and you can hear that this isn’t just some novelty or vanity project - Each of the players brings a real love of music to their performances.”

Sure, everyone loves music, I thought. Doesn't prove anything.

And after a few dozen listens, I still think it counts as a novelty project -- that explains finding everything from Sam Cooke to Stone Temple Pilots, from banjo to rap, on the same album -- but even a novelty piece can be of good quality, as Oh Say is.

Really, a novelty is perfect for baseball fans, a lot who pay hundreds of dollars to wear other people's shirts, line up in droves for bobbleheads, and make space in their houses for display cases of foul balls. This particular baseball memento is just as autographable as the others, but has the surprisingly useful secondary function of playing music. And the music is so squeeky-clean that it's appropriate for fans of all ages.

Plus, a portion of the players' proceeds go to their favorite charities. Jeepers creepers, people, what more could you want?

The Reason I'm Writing This
Cincinnati's Sean Casey doesn't suck in his rendition of Toby Keith's How Do You Like Me Now?, and he's probably even better than that. My review of his performance undoubtedly suffers from this song selection. I find Toby Keith to be unnecessarily mean-spirited in his wannabe attempt to be country music's newest bad boy.

Case-in-point, the song that Casey performed details the story of a high-school loser who turns out to be a big-time musician and his crush on the “perfect” girl who turns out to be miserable and alone. But instead of speaking to the irony or showing the poor woman any pity, the song rubs her nose in it by posing the song's title: how do you like me now?

The song selection was a stylistic mismatch for Casey's sweet-as-sugar public persona. However, I imagine there are tons of Toby Keith and Sean Casey fans in the tri-state area that would beg to differ, so I probably just don't know what I'm talking about.

A Little More on Song Selection
On the flip side, the Indians Ben Broussard does a better-than-passable job on U2's With or Without You, and gets bonus points for choosing one of the probably ten sexiest songs of all time. LA Dodgers' Kelly Wunsch gets similar points for performing John Mellancamp's Hurts So Good. I'd listen to these guys sing any day of the week.

Marlins' Jeff Conine made an ambitious effort to perform Stone Temple Pilots' Plush. If he keeps at it, he may tear up his vocal chords enough to put on a truly great performance.

A Wide Variety
Matt Ginter contributes the bluegrass flavor when he gets out the banjo and sings Dooley by The Dillards. Ginter's performance is solid, and I've gotta give mad props to anyone who can play the banjo. That's skills, baby.

The album features two original rap performances by Indian's Coco Crisp and Phillies' Jimmy Rollins. I'm not adequately versed in rap to know whether either performance was actually good, but I do find myself bouncing along with them when I listen in the car.

The final “suckas” of Rollins' rap is still ringing in your ears when Ozzie Smith completely changes the flow with his fantastic rendition of Cupid by Sam Cooke. Mad props for him, too.

The Best of the Best
Aubrey Huff absolutely runs away with the show when he performs John Michael Montgomery's Letters from Home. Now, I've been a John Michael Montgomery fan for years, but this song is just too much for me. When it was at its hottest, I had to stop listening to country radio at work because I couldn't keep from crying whenever this song came on, and you can't spend your work day all red and puffy of face. Now I'm no better off at work, as Huff's version is, and I'm going out on a limb here, just as good as the original. Demmit. Couldn't he have sung Sold??

Padres' Scott Linebrink also does a great job with Wave on Wave. In fact, if I were him, I would have been pretty irritated to have to follow Huff. Without that Huff's track, Linebrink may have been the star of this album.

However, the song that I wait in acute anticipation of every time through is Omar Vizquel's version of The Goo Goo Dolls' Broadway. Vizquel does have a good voice, but mostly it's that I have such a weakness for a good accent.

Oh Say Can You Sing? also comes with a bonus DVD featuring typical behind-the-scenes stuff, commentaries from all of the performers, and a quick tour of all Ozzie Smith's trophies and rings. So, when you're playing the CD before the game and your buddies ask about it, you can whip out the DVD and really impress them. Especially if you've gotten it autographed.