Playing like the widescreen director's cut version of Honeycomb, Frank Black's sprawling double album Fast Man Raider Man reunites him with the Memphis session legends who played with him last time, and adds even more stars to the cast of characters. Along with veteran Catholics member Lyle Workman and Honeycomb players Reggie Young, Buddy Miller, Spooner Oldham, and Chester Thompson, the roster also includes Al Kooper, Jon Tiven, Bobby Bare, Jr., the Band's Levon Helm, Cheap Trick's Tom Peterson, and Bad Company's Simon Kirke, giving Fast Man Raider Man the feel of an all-star jamboree. As on Honeycomb, the playing throughout the album is subtly excellent (and how could it not be with supporting musicians like these?). Jazzy guitars and saxophone give "If Your Poison Gets You" a sophisticated take on roots rock, while the lush horns on "My Terrible Ways" and the keyboards on "Highway to Lowdown" and "You Can't Crucify Yourself" are authentic, soulful touches. Though Fast Man Raider Man shares the warmth of Honeycomb, unlike that album -- which was recorded in just a few days in Memphis when all the players had the time to come together -- this set of songs is less urgent, and less overtly confessional. Black seems more and more comfortable in the Americana/alt-country direction of his later work, but fortunately it's the kind of comfort that allows him to keep elaborating on this sound. Indeed, the overall vibe of the album is just as important, if not more so, than the individual songs. However, highlights are scattered throughout both of Fast Man Raider Man's discs and include "Dirty Old Town," an Irish drinking song that Black transforms into an alternately heartfelt and rollicking duet with Marty Brown; the dramatic, Lou Reed-esque "End of the Summer"; "Where the Wind Is Going," a fun homage to Texas garage rock; and the breezy yet heartfelt ballad "Don't Cry That Way." This is easily one of Black's most eclectic albums, moving from gutsy rock like "Johnny Barleycorn," "Kiss My Ring," and "In the Time of My Own Ruin" to oddities such as "Dog Sleep," which switches between a rousing brass band and slow-motion passages that drift on woozy organs, to the genuinely soulful "Sad Old World" and "Golden Shore." Like the simultaneously released Devil's Workshop and Black Letter Days, Fast Man Raider Man could've been edited down to one disc's worth of songs; however, the flowing, laid-back feel of the whole set is a big part of its appeal. Indeed, if it weren't for the album's studio polish, it'd feel like an extremely well-recorded concert -- it has the ebb and flow of a good live set, and its expansive warmth ends up making its length work in its favor.
AllMusic Review by Heather Phares
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2