Nolan Ryan probably had a pretty decent curve. But the thing that earned him a Hall of Fame plaque in Cooperstown and the respect of every hitter that faced him was his scorching heater. Likewise, an unassuming trio of fellow Texans, originally dubbed Magneto U.S.A., made a name for themselves by throwing straight down the middle. On its inaugural disc, 1996's Make Your Mama Proud, Fastball -- as the act would later be rechristened -- put two fingers across the seam and just let it rip with no-frills power pop. And while Mama was a nice enough outing for a rook, it wasn't until a few seasons later, after the boys honed the high hard one, that they were tagged as marquee players. All the Pain That Money Can Buy, from 1998, delivered several well-received singles -- "Fire Escape," "Out of My Head" and, most notably, "The Way," which merited a spot on Hollywood Records' permanent roster. Or did it? Although sonically more effusive and ambitious than All the Pain, 2000's Harsh Light of Day didn't fare quite as well, at least in the eyes of Hollywood execs, who opted to let the group become a free agent. But Keep Your Wig On, the band's latest release and its debut for Ryko, finds Fastball in the middle of what looks to be an MVP season. Don't wait until this pitch whizzes past you to take a swing.


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