Bernie Williams 'Moving Forward' ... With Music

Bernie Williams (yes, the ex-baseball star) has released a new album, "Moving Forward." And who better to write about it than The Washington Post's music-obsessed national baseball writer, Dave Sheinin? Herewith, his review. (And by the way, Yankees fans, Chien-Ming Wang just gave up two more homers while you were reading this intro.)

Bernie Williams has led about as charmed a life as anyone you can think of. Believe us, no matter how good you have it, you'd change place with this guy if given the chance. (OK -- unless, perhaps, your name is Derek Jeter.)

You want charmed? Try signing with the New York Yankees, as Williams did, in the middle of the franchise's worst World Series drought in history, then hitting your prime just as the modern Yankees dynasty of 1996-2000 was taking off -- at the same time inheriting the legacy of Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle as the center fielder of the New York Friggin' Yankees.

Can it get better? Oh, yes. In November 1998, when he was a free agent, the Yankees were prepared to trash-heap him in favor of Albert Belle, but Belle changed his mind about donning the pinstripes, and the panic-stricken Yankees gave Williams an $85 million contract to stay. Two more world championships followed.

Few entities can turn very good players into gods quite as prodigiously as the New York baseball media. And so Williams -- despite having led his league in a significant offensive category only once in his career (batting average, 1998) and never finishing better than seventh in a most valuable player vote -- became a Yankee Legend, his videography playing on the JumboTron for early-arriving fans at Yankee Stadium alongside those of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Yogi Berra.

Had Williams not led such a charmed baseball life (had he played in a different uniform, for example), he'd be called "Garret Anderson" or "Ellis Burks" - outfield contemporaries of Williams, very good players with similar career numbers, whom you've probably only vaguely heard of because they didn't have the good fortune to be Yankees. This is not to disparage Bernie's baseball career; he was an excellent player, playing in five all-star games and winning four Gold Gloves for defense.

But you got the feeling that if Williams were a musician, he'd immediately get a record deal and a ginormous publicity budget - oh, and he'd probably get Bruce Springsteen to take a guest turn on his record.

Well, whaddya know! He is a musician - a classically trained jazz guitarist, in fact! He did get a record deal! And guess what - The Boss (and we're not talking about George Steinbrenner here) does show up on the final track of the new Bernie Williams album, "Moving Forward"!

(Read the rest of the review after the jump.)

Now then: Unless you're a Yankees fan, your impulse, more than likely, would be to hate Williams for being so charmed and hate his new record because - well, no one should be so blessed.

But that would be a mistake.

Because if you can deal with some clich├ęd jazz-fusion production (as well as not one, but two versions -- one each in English and Spanish -- of Jon Secada reprising his schlocky '90s R&B hit "Just Another Day"), there are some interesting songs, some virtuoso flourishes (many of them from Williams, whose talent as a guitarist is evident) and some cool moments.

Chief among the cool moments is the live recording of Williams accompanying Springsteen on "Glory Days" at a charity fundraiser. (One quick beef: With all the studio trickery available to producers these days, couldn't someone have edited out Patti Scialfa's awful, strident backing vocals?)

The best moments on "Moving Forward" are the most intimate, when the overdone production - which tends towards jazz-rock schlock or sleepy elevator music -- vanishes and Williams gets some quality one-on-one time with his guitar.

"Lullaby For Beatriz," with Williams accompanied only by a soft rhythm-guitar chords and a cello, sounds lovely and fragile, while his perhaps inevitable solo take on "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" - with spoken intro from longtime Yankee Stadium public-address voice Bob Sheppard - turns the classic seventh-inning-stretch ditty into an introspective elegy that sounds like a musical interpretation of a wistful ex-player looking back at his career.

Among the uptempo numbers, the clear standout is "Songo," a sizzling Williams-penned tune with Calypso influences that opens with some hot fretwork on acoustic guitar and is joined about two minutes in by an even hotter electric riff from session man Scott Henderson. But the electric guitar's presence is fleeting, and Williams carries the tune home acoustically without losing any of the heat.

And yet, if you know Williams even a little bit from his baseball career, it's difficult to remove the skepticism from your mind as you listen to "Moving Forward." Is the record good, or is it good-for-an-athlete? And would you even give it a second thought if the artist's name were not Bernie Williams, but William Bernie?


By J. Freedom du Lac |  April 20, 2009; 11:38 AM ET Reviews , Sports
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