Double albums often walk a fine line between ambitious and pompous; just as often, one can be mistaken for the other. Frank Black’s career has had moments of both. On his new double album, Fast Man Raider Man, he’s more comfortable having Memphis session legends, such as Spooner Oldham, Levon Helm, and Al Kooper, surrounding him. In his jovial content, he’s fearless and fun while capturing a perfect mixture of energetic roots rock and the twang and sway of country. Black ambitiously delves deeper into the territory covered on his previous effort, Honeycomb. However, over two discs, the album seemingly fails to move aurally.Black delivers a collection of quality material. With accompanying vocals from Marty Brown, Black performs arguably the best rendition of Ewan MacColl’s “Dirty Old Town” since The Pogues covered it over two decades ago. Musically, he hasnâ€šÃ„Ã´t changed the song, but his and Brown’s delivery of the lyrics emit the jocularity of playing an old tune for the fun of it. That ideal rises up repeatedly in rocking workouts like “I’m Not Dead (I’m in Pittsburgh)” and “Highway to Lowdown.” The difference is that they’re Frank Black originals.
The only downside to an album like this is that each song feels and sounds no different than the last. Where most albums have an opening, a body, and a closing, Fast Man Raider Man never seems to grow or build. The songs are very self-contained and defined, but don’t connect to each other, an interesting feat since each song is fully immersed in sepia-toned Americana somewhere between the country rock of the early â€šÃ„Ã²70s and the alt-country of recent years. The quality and quantity are both there, but there are no peaks or valleys, just a long straight drive in need of a turn or a hill to shake things up.