It’s a mark of a great album when you can listen to it straight through without wanting to skip any songs. But what about when you find yourself keeping it in the CD player for hours on end, pressing rewind over and over to hear your favorites, to listen once more to a note-perfect musical break, or to just better appreciate a cleverly written line? Because that’s what I did after receiving a copy of Fast Track’s latest album, Heartache and Trouble, filling a four-hour drive with well-written originals, fine traditional instrumentation, and fresh cuts of a few classic favorite songs. The album – the band’s third effort in as many years from Engelhardt Music Group – has quickly been added to my list of favorites for 2022.
Kicking things off is the title track, which was written by Gerald Evans, Jr. Released as an early single back in April, it features guitarist Duane Sparks on lead vocals singing from the perspective of a man who’s had it rough his whole life. It’s a fine example of a bluegrass hard luck story, ending in a quickly regretted murder. Tuned-down banjo from Dale Perry helps add to the mean, angry feel. Sparks also takes the lead on another track from Evans, Plain Old Country Boy, filling the lyrics with plenty of swagger. The song features the singer bragging about his independent ways, including some of my favorite lines from the album: “That girl wanted me to settle down with a house and a picket fence. I kissed her cheek and got in the car, and I ain’t seen her since.”
Spears, the group’s bass player and ace songwriter, has contributed several original numbers here, including Jenny Lynn, a love song that will tug at even the coldest heartstrings. Guided by cheery fiddle from Steve Day, it tells of a man whose sweetheart passed on while he was gone to war, but whose love for her never died. Spears also penned one of my favorite tracks here, The Sweetest Place on Earth. “Old home place” songs are rampant in bluegrass music, often basically carbon copies of each other, but this one is a step – or two – above. Spears sings lead with a tear in his voice, the harmonies on the chorus are beautiful, and Day’s fiddle perfectly underscores the melancholy lyrics. Rounding out Spears’s songwriting contributions is an enjoyable mid-tempo waltz that closes out the album, You No Longer Believe In Me. It’s a heartbreak number, made even more lonesome by the revelation that the singer’s wife has left after 35 years together.
I was excited to see that the band included one of my favorites from their live shows, Steve Day’s rendition of Mary Jane Won’t You Be Mine. Day is an excellent fiddler, but also a fine singer, and he gives it his all here. Fans who aren’t familiar with the song may think he’s just rewritten the Stanleys’ Say Won’t You Be Mine, but this is actually Bill Monroe’s version of that song. Speaking of the Stanley Brothers, Day also offers a strong cut of their Sweetest Love here. Both songs feature nice mandolin breaks from Shayne Bartley, a new addition to the band as of 2022.
Fast Track is packed with talent. With multiple strong lead vocalists, musicianship from some of the genre’s best, and Ron Spears’s songwriting talent, they’re not just some upstart band. Heartache and Trouble is on the brief side (just ten songs), but it’s a strong, tight collection without a boring moment. Fans of new traditional music should certainly pick up a copy.
For more information on Fast Track, visit them online. Their new album is available from several online music retailers.