Frank Black must not get much sleep. Besides a new baby and the reunited Pixies touring and allegedly recording, Black found the time to complete a follow-up to last year's pleasant surprise, and quite anti-Pixie, Honeycomb.
Black's songs are always short and to the point. To say that Fastman Raiderman is a sprawling double album is misleading. Of the nearly 30 songs, as few as six run longer than four minutes with most clocking in at the three minute mark. Fastman Raiderman is a natural progression from the Americana and roots rock of Honeycomb. Recorded in a whirlwind, Black would steal a day, here and there, between Pixies tour dates to work with a few of the legends that provided the deep colors of Honeycomb. Steve Cropper, Reggie Young and Spooner Oldham make appearances as well as names like P.F. Sloan, Levon Helm of The Band, Cheap Trick's Tom Petersson, Buddy Miller and Marty Brown.
Brown's contribution may be the most evident as he shares the vocals with Black on a cover of "Dirty Old Town", which is a rousing highlight early in the first disc. With so many "names" attached to the project it is no little feat that Black is able to be the highlight of the album. His songwriting and vocals are in top form and keep the album fresh and exciting well throughout the two disc running order.
Black's career has been sparked by contradictions. It's safe to say anyone who only knows Black from the Pixies may be confused or even let down by Fastman Raiderman. His solo career has been far more varied as he spends enough time in one genre to create a grand statement of sorts before moving on to something else. Fastman Raiderman feels like one of those grand statements. It's undeniable in its appeal and in the obvious fun Black has with the music and his reverence for music's past. It has been evident from the early days of the Pixies that Black was a rock scholar, infusing his music with everything from surf guitars, metal vocals and Peter, Paul and Mary melodies.
Black may be rock and roll's last historian, someone who is creating viable music in the twenty-first century but is able to look back farther than what was popular when he was a teenager.
Fastman Raiderman is a dramatic album. There is enough mixture of odd and familiar to keep the listener coming back for more. Whether you go back for another listen of a favorite track or to dig to increased depth in a track that didn't grab you right away.
It is easy to forget about that other band Black is in when he keeps making records as accomplished and enjoyable as this one.