Samuel Johnson said patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel, and I’m not here to argue his point — but after listening to Tim McCarver Sings Selections from the Great American Songbook, I think I’d like to amend it: Vanity albums of pop standards are the last refuge of non-singers with an undeserved surplus of time, money, and hubris.
Those of you who are big fans of baseball and/or deeply inessential music might already be aware of McCarver’s album, but I’m just listening to it now, on account of human sinkhole Dave Lifton, who is still seeking vengeance for my thoughtful gift of a couple months ago, and reigniting the long-dormant Earmageddon series in the process. (Rest assured, I struck back at the hated Lifton moments after finding McCarver in my inbox. Stay tuned.)
Anyway, I didn’t know about this until Dave sent it to me. Although I grew up on a series of Little League ballfields, I’m not a big fan of watching baseball on TV, so McCarver has always been more of an abstract concept to me than anything else. If Lifton had sent me an album by, say, Sam Wyche or Jerry Glanville, I might have boarded a plane to Chicago so I could garrote him in his sleep, but I entered Tim McCarver Sings Selections from the Great American Songbook without any preconceived notions.
Well, okay, I had a few. I mean, McCarver is a 70-year-old sportscaster, and if he had any natural singing ability, he probably wouldn’t have waited until 2009 to record his debut, right? Sings Selections lives down to those mildly hostile expectations from its opening number, a lukewarm stroll through “On a Clear Day” that finds McCarver reaching for the melody as half-heartedly as Manny Ramirez played for the Red Sox. It isn’t awful, mind you, but McCarver sounds like nothing so much as a guy who’s called up to join the band without warning at his own retirement party. He’s having fun, he might be a little tipsy, and he isn’t a singer.
(I’d make an Auto-Tune joke, but someone beat me to it. You’re evil, Deadspin.)
So here’s the thing. The songs McCarver covers — “Two for the Road,” “Change Partners,” “I Wish I Didn’t Love You So” — aren’t necessarily the easiest songs in the world to sing, but they aren’t exactly “Ave Maria,” and the arrangements are such a fundamental part of our musical bedrock that anyone with a reasonably sturdy voice and clear diction can get through them without embarrassing themselves too badly. That’s exactly what McCarver does here. The songs deserve better treatment, and he adds absolutely nothing at all to any of them, but he doesn’t abuse them, either, and the band doesn’t sound any worse than any random cocktail combo from any random lounge bar on a Friday night. It’s fine. Turn it down low enough, and it makes for acceptable dinner party background music.
But why? What’s the point? It’s the Great American Songbook, for Lifton’s sake — these songs are great, and they deserve to be interpreted instead of merely covered. I don’t begrudge McCarver his taste in music, and if he’s really so in love with the sound of his own voice that he needed to hear himself singing “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” and “Gee Baby Ain’t I Good to You,” well, I understand how he feels. But there’s a skeevy element that’s added to all this when a famous person uses his name to trade in on his musical dreams, and that adds a sour aftertaste to an album that doesn’t have any other flavor on its own.
Spotify users can listen to the album here. Or, you know, not.