The self-titled debut CD from Fast Track shows all the mandatory DNA of a modern bluegrass band. Great lead vocals. Refined harmonies. A good mix of original and external tunes that sound and feel mostly like classics. A superstar instrumentalist supported by four top-shelf bluegrass musicians.
But do they have that elusive spark that sets a new bluegrass band apart from its peers? Except for a couple of weaker attempts here, this CD bears witness that their lofty goals are probably justified.
From the emotional opener, “Blue And Lonesome Again,” Fast Track makes it clear they intend to be a serious contender. Built around the propulsively potent bluegrass mandolin of Jesse Brock, FastTrack knows where their strengths lie, and make every effort to capitalize.
The tunes here are chosen exactingly to showcase the band’s tight ensemble sound; soaring tenor lead vocals and solid vocal harmonies, while showcasing Brock’s fresh from the stillhouse bluegrass mandolin. Long regarded as one of the foremost defenders of the faith among traditional mandolin lovers, Brock has perfected a memorable, hard-driven mandolin style laced with the melodicism of greats like Herschel Sizemore, Bobby Osborne, and Jesse McReynolds.
Listen to his opening break on the title tune to hear that clear-toned, resolutely upbeat playing Brock has in spades. Dale Perry shows a strong banjo sound here rooted deeply in the ground JD Crowe once plowed. Fiddler Steve Day lays it down with a classic sad, but still sweet, tone similar to the great Kenny Baker.
When it comes to up-tempo, powerhouse vocal harmonies, FastTrack is sure to be a festival circuit favorite. The bluegrass gospel classic “Come On Down” is rendered here as a relentlessly up-tempo number perfect for this group’s singing style, with Brock’s buoyant mandolin harmonizing with Day’s fine fiddling. Their vocal harmonies are perhaps a little ways from IIIrd Tyme Out’s perfection, but very coherent and effective nonetheless.
The tunes here hew to a very traditional style, both in topic and tempo. “Life’s Highway” is a classic tale comparing life to a long journey, but massaged into an original take on that classic theme. “Tennessee Rain” similarly uses common themes like running from the law and the tale of woe it provokes, but finds new fields for these tropes to flourish anew.
“The Lonesome Wind,” however, crosses the line into Clicheville. The lyrics about my woman left me, the wind calling her name, and other timeworn lyrics comes off as formulaic. “Ghost of a Miner,” on the other hand, takes the belabored tale of a miner’s death and spins it into gold. Intimate details, such as the dark being suffocating and the air feeling damp and thin, help the listener imagine themselves digging for Number 9 a thousand feet down with the cold deep in their marrow and the dust scaring their lungs forever.
Closing the CD is a great tune from noted bluegrass tunesmith Brink Brinkman, “Broken In Friends and Worn Out Shoes.” It’s another sure-fire single release for this band, propelled by some lovely rhythm guitar and backup fills from Duane Sparks.
Fast Track’s opening salvo shows that while it remains hard for traditionally based bluegrass bands to separate themselves from similarly focused groups, employing disciplined vocals, backed by deeply rooted accompaniment and solos can still create a signature sound that is recognizable while remaining traditional. Much more than a one-trick plow mule, Fast Track is a band on the rise which fans of straight-up bluegrass should find to their liking.
REVIEWED BY David McCarty