CD Review of Moving Forward by Bernie Williams
Bernie Williams: Moving Forward
Recommended if you like
Tommy Emmanuel, Latin jazz,
Bruce Springsteen
Label
Rock Ridge Music
Bernie Williams:
Moving Forward

Reviewed by Mojo Flucke, PhD

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I
n Boston, Bernie Williams has an unofficial middle name, which typically appears in print as "bleeping." Two players officially carry that middle name, Bucky Bleeping Dent and Aaron Bleeping Boone, whose home runs killed, respectively, the Red Sox campaigns of 1978 and 2003. Out in the Beantown bars, of course, there's no polite expletive; Sox fans spit f-bombs into straight into their pint glasses. Bernie Williams is unofficially bleeping because he had no gargantuan Bucky Dent moment. Instead, he patiently stifled our spirits with slow pressure over time, sticking thousands of little daggers in our souls with each timely late-game RBI gapper. While we were polishing off a near-century of World Series futility in the 1990s, Bernie Williams led his Yankees to four world championships. Because his consistent excellence built his legend – and not some lucky swing like Dent's and Boone's – we keep that bleeping name unofficial.

As a Red Sox diehard and record critic reviewing Bernie's new acoustic-guitar record Moving Forward, this is my one chance to take the mound and bring the heat against this longtime Red Sox nemesis, snapping off 99-mph fastballs. With a few brushback pitches mixed in, aimed a little too close to his earhole for the ump's comfort. Pass the rosin bag.

As with his days on the field, Red Sox fans – and music fans – can't really hate Williams; instead, we must muster grudging respect for the 40-year-old Puerto Rican, who clearly has much athletic and musical talent. Moving Forward features a mix of Latin-tinged acoustic jazz, fusion, and a little pop-rock, with an all-star guest list (John Secada, jazz guitarists Scott Henderson and Mike Stern, Chicago's Bill Champlin, Bruce Springsteen) that lesser musicians – and less-connected New Yorkers – could only dream of assembling. And they're not there to prop him up: Even if the type of music isn't your bag, there's no debating that this is a serious record, and not some celebrity vanity project.

Bernie Williams

It's quite a mix: The Jon Secada pop cut "Just Another Day" definitely is worthy of traction on AAA station playlists, especially in New York and New Jersey, where audiences might appreciate it the most. "Que Rico El Mambo" is an ambitious, tight little 7/4 jazz rethinking of a Latin standard. Champlin's Hammond B-3 organ fuels the jazz blues of "African Blues" against a sonic backdrop of spicy Latin percussion. "He Reigns" is a sunny little upbeat acoustic rocker written with religion in mind, but it can put a little shuffle in even the most hardcore atheist's step. Such eclecticism might sound strange to some ears, but it's clear that Williams didn't want to put out a homogeneous set of mellow acoustic tuneage. So he took a few chances in hopes of reaching a broader audience. That's commendable.

What will make Red Sox fans' blood run cold is hearing longtime Yankee stadium announcer Bob Sheppard's voice introduce old #51 at the start of a completely cornball solo rendition of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." At that point, I started throwing beer bottles and mustard packs at my speakers and tried to get the other members of the household to join in the familiar Fenway "Yankees suck!" chant. Two songs later, we get Bruce and Patti Scialfa singing "Glory Days" with Bernie accompanying on acoustic guitar, which is fine in and of itself. But add to that that fact that you can tell from the tape it's clearly a live performance at a fundraiser for former Yankees manager Joe Torre's charity – the audience loaded with Yankees fans, the Boss leading Yankees cheers from the stage – and it becomes another piece of Pinstripes memorabilia to put on the dartboard and severely limiting the appeal of this record to bumper music for Big Apple sports-talk radio stations.

In this light, even an endorsement from uber-Red Sox fan James Taylor, printed on a whole page unto itself in the CD booklet no less, doesn't make Moving Forward any easier to swallow. Baseball players underestimate how much people resent the Yankees – and the Red Sox, for that matter – because our teams outspend the rest of the league. And they are followed by arrogant, annoying fans like me. With this CD, Bernie Williams hitches his wagon to his Yankee-ness, which doesn't make for a sound strategy if he wants to make any friends west of the Hudson River – or, for that matter, north of Hartford.

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