Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen
Compass Records, 7 4633 2, (2014)
CD Review by Hermon Joyner
Cold Spell marks the third album from Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen and with this album they are hitting their stride. For most bands and solo musicians, it sometimes takes a while to become who they will be as performing artists, to find their own voices. In the beginning for most performers, they can’t help but wear their influences from other artists on their sleeves, so to speak, but eventually, given enough time and effort on their parts, the outside influences fall away and their true character takes over. I think this is that moment for Solivan and his band. Cold Spell feels assured and complete in every way.
Of course, this probably won’t be good news for everyone, because it does mean that in some ways this band is moving further away from the Monroe-style bluegrass. But if you were paying attention to their earlier efforts, this won’t be much of a surprise. From the beginning, Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen tended towards classic country and jamgrass flavors in their sonic brews and now these tendencies are more up front and center in their songs. But they have been perfectly incorporated into the mix and feel more than intentional; this is who they are. While they still follow a bluegrass instrumentation for their band, their songs are more likely to draw from rock, country, jam bands, and even some jazz.
Solivan’s singing is as good as ever, or better. His high tenor has a purity and power to it that is fine to listen to. He is fast becoming my favorite vocalist. I was going to say in the bluegrass genre, but actually his vocal quality extends farther than that. He’s just flat-out one of the best vocalists working today. And his mandolin playing is second to none, too. When he wants to play it fast, he can rip off a flurry of notes that is almost unbelievable, and when he wants to slow things down, his rich and expressive tone comes to the front. Solivan is one of the all-around best mandolin players working today as well.
More than some bands, the rest of the band doesn’t need to take the back seat to Solivan. Mike Munford is more than his match on the banjo and brings an uncommonly high level of taste and technical skill to this instrument. As his multiple awards attest, Munford is one of the best of current banjo players and his work on Cold Spell backs this up. The other members of the band, Danny Booth on bass and Chris Luquette on guitar, are just as good. Booth even handles the lead vocals of the song, “Country Song,” and shows that he has great skills in that area as well. A welcome addition to the mix in this CD is the use of Rob Ickes on Dobro on several tracks. Solivan should consider adding Ickes as a permanent member of Dirty Kitchen. Ickes really adds a lot to the songs and feel of the album as a whole.
Cold Spell is a wonderful album of Americana bluegrass-inspired music. Like most of America, it is a mix of influences and sources that manage to come together and work as a whole, sounding both original and faithful at the same time. It is certainly one of the best albums of 2014 and it gets my highest recommendation.
Song List: Say It Isn’t So; No Life in This Town; She Said She Will; Cold Spell; Yeah Man; Better (Days Go By); Country Song; Betrayal; Chief Taghkanic; Missing You.