Between his solo albums and ones paired with Eric Brace, Peter Cooper has traded the writer-turned-musician tag and now stands on his considerable merit as a songwriter and performer - both of those strengths are fielded nimbly on this new release with a mental athleticism that continues to draw from his days as a music critic and interviewer.
Despite the cover photos and title, this is not a baseball-themed album along the lines of Chuck Brodsky. Opening Day is the exception, taking on the boys of summer via the kind of inside jargon only a longtime baseball fan can muster, using the arc of the season as a metaphor for optimism muted over time.
Cooper's writing is as strong as ever, but it's his delivery here that really makes the pitches hit the proverbial strike zone. A Million Miles to the City mixes spoken lines and sung choruses in the same way as Tom T. Hall used so effectively - no surprise, really, since Hall himself wrote the song, but Cooper understands the tempo and timbre like it was his own idea.
Elsewhere, Cooper offers up a humorous Prine-like personality study on Grandma's Tattoo, a co-write with Tommy Womack, takes an intimate look at the effects of faraway conflicts on the home life with Quiet Little War, and shows more facets of his surprisingly malleable singing voice via the closing song, a beautifully haunting version of the late Bill Morrissey's Birches.
One indication of how well-liked, or at least well-connected, Cooper is would be the list of supporting players here, on an album he self-produced. From Lloyd Green to Kieran Kane, Paul Griffith, Jen Gunderman (The Jayhawks), Richard Bennett and Thomm Jutz, who also served as engineer and mixer, it's an A-list cast that lends an air of capable yet subtle instrumental shadings to the basic framework of Cooper's songs, which like a winning baseball season's home games, just get better as time goes by.