CD Review of Fast Man Raider Man by Frank Black

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Fast Man Raider Man
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Released: 2006
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Okay, I know, this album’s been out for a few months now, but I got a huge stack of new stuff in the mail right about the time it showed up on my doorstep, and, frankly, it kind of got lost in the shuffle. As it happens, though, the delay in getting around to writing up has allowed enough time to pass to confirm something I’ve always suspected but couldn’t confirm until the disc had been in stores for awhile: no one is ever going to give a damn about former Pixies frontman Frank Black’s solo albums.

I’d always suspected that was the case, since he keeps putting them out left and right and, yet, most Pixies fans I know haven’t bought one since his self-titled solo debut in 1993. But, y’know, that was then; now, we’re living in a world where the Pixies have reunited, toured the world and elsewhere, and sold out concert dates left and right.

But, by God, even with media attention on the band at an all-time high, poor Frank Black still can’t get anyone to buy his solo material.

It’s a crying shame, really.

With Fast Man Raider Man, Black continues along the same Americana-styled path he was treading on 2005’s Honeycomb, but this time he brings a larger cast of characters into the proceedings…to say the least. A quick check of the credits finds a decidedly impressive list of names: Levon Helm (The Band), Tom Petersson (Cheap Trick), Simon Kirke (Bad Company), Ian McLagen (Small Faces), Steve Ferrone (Average White Band), P.F. Sloan, Al Kooper, Dan Penn, Spooner Oldham, and just about every major session musician in the business, including Steve Cropper, Carol Kaye, and Jim Keltner. It’s a lot of folks…but, then, it’s a lot of songs.

It’s a bit weird to imagine that Frank Black could turn into the Van Morrison of the alternative rock scene, but opening track “If Your Poison Gets You” proves that he’s well on his way. Black’s never been locked into one sound, however. Here, he variously channels Nick Cave (“The End of the Summer”), Shane MacGowan (“I’m Not Dead [I’m In Pittsburgh]”), and Neil Young (“Fast Man”). There are piano ballads, honky tonk numbers, and rockers alike, providing a little something for everyone.

Perhaps Fast Man Raider Man didn’t need to be a two-disc set, but paring it down to just the one CD wouldn’t have stopped Black from releasing another album in a few months’ time. (After all, in 2002, he released two albums on the same day.) He’s one of the most prolific singer-songwriters of his generation, and with that title comes the inevitability that everything he writes isn’t going to be a gem. Still, given his track record, it’s always worth giving him the benefit of the doubt…and even at 27 songs, Fast Man Raider Man keeps his reputation intact.

~Will Harris