Fast Track’s Debut Brings a Comforting Familiarity
Although the band name itself may not ring any bells, the members of Fast Track should not be of mystery to many. Most of its members are from the recently disbanded David Parmely and Cardinal Tradition including: Dale Perry on Banjo, Steve Day on fiddle, and Ron Spears on bass. With this incredible backbone of the band already secured, it would seem to be the dream of many mandolinists and guitarists to join this stellar group of musicians. The additions of Duane Sparks, formerly from Joe Mullins, and Jesse Brock, one of my personal favorite mandolinists who has played with the likes of Dale Anne Bradley, the Gibson Brothers, and Michael Cleveland, make this this group a super band of the highest caliber.
The vocal stacks prove to be a strength from the first song, “Blue and Lonesome Again” which also features strong long-bowed strokes from Steve Day. Another cool easter egg to check out for is Brock’s double stop pull offs during the fills on the second verse. Any mandolinist will find great joy listening to these songs repeatedly trying to capture the nuances to Brock’s approach.
After the hard driving opener, the fiddle walk introduces a clever country song “Play me a song I can try to” where an old man at the bar has a certain song request because “sad songs are like music to [his] ears.” A necessary part of these lonesome country bluegrass fusions, Spears has a nice walk going along during the breaks especially Day’s fiddle solo. Duane Sparks’s voice is not the usual type you hear on a lonesome country tune, or a bluegrass tune of any kind, but his sincerity and warmth work well with this band and with the rough timbre of Sparks.
After the bluesy number “Life’s Highway,” the dreary “Tennessee Rain” will remind many listeners of Del McCoury’s “Black Jack County Chains” with the similar chord progression, plot, and eerie disposition created by the background instruments. Again, the same stack that had appeared previously sounds really strong until they let Sparks pull the vocal riff at the end to peak execution.
“The Lonesome Wind” unleashes Sparks on lead vocals for the first time on the project. A simple bluegrass subject matter of the wind personifying the missing sweetheart, Sparks brings sincerity into the performance especially into the second verse where his full range is on display. This song is also a great platform for Brock to show off some licks I have not heard from him. The triplets and pulloffs, concluded with that double string walk down is beyond difficult and exemplifies Brock as a “mandolinist’s mandolinist.” It never sounds too easy, but it always sounds clever, and mandolinists know how hard it is to execute those licks with that type of crispness.
Part of these reviews often bemoan the failure to construct an album where the songs make sense next to each other. Either they become repetitive, or they add two types of “novelty” songs together ex: gospel and an instrumental. This album, in contrast, may have the greatest transition which adds to the gratification of the latter track. After a miner ballad at a relatively slow bpm and relying on darker modes, there is a burst of light that arrives with the first guitar strums of “Wish I had a Heart of Stone” which arrives almost twice as fast and accompanied with a mandolin and fiddle motif. This transition is a great example of the variety that is still available even within a strict definition of bluegrass. The minor ballad, followed by a full-way three-parter, shows the amount of instrumental and vocal versatility that bluegrass has the potential to possess.
This track is followed by a “Stone must be the walls” progression, which happens to one of my personal favorite’s in “Oh What a time to be Me”. Yet, sparks builds of the intensity when he pushes his range and tells of his issues compared to the second person in the tune. If the high range of the lead was not enough, the tenor on the bridge puts it way over the top.
Not surprisingly, a bunch of professionals make an album that works to their skills. But it is surprising it stays this varied, and each member is able to show off what they bring to the table.