Review: Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen – Cold Spell

There’s no way Frank Solivan’s kitchen is dirty. I’ve not been to his house, so I can’t say for sure, but if his music is any indication at all, the kitchen is probably very clean and well organized.

Like a talented chef, it takes a certain attention to detail to gather some musicians together, mix in a little original music performed on traditional instruments, add a pinch of virtuosity and have it come out sounding good. If you didn’t already know, Frank’s other passion is cooking; definitely not a coincidence.

Here, on Cold Spell, their most recent release on Compass Records, the band present us with ten tracks that provide ample justification (if any was needed) for their hatful of International Bluegrass Music Association award nominations and their continued rise on the bluegrass and roots music scene.

For those unfamiliar with the band, this album, like the two that preceded it, has a progressive feel, full of interesting chord progressions and original arrangements. There’s an abundance of individual instrumental virtuosity from the band’s core members: Solivan on mandolin, Mike Munford on banjo, Chris Luquette on guitar and Danny Booth on bass as well as some guest appearances from Sam Bush, John Cowan and Rob Ickes to name just a few.

It’s testament to the band’s growing reputation that such notable musicians are prepared to lend their talent here. Rob Ickes has contributed to previous albums and his dobro playing helps to give the band their signature sound. That being said, Mike Munford deserves a special mention for his innovative banjo work. Listen to the anthem-like “She Said She Will” for the best banjo solo ever. Mike is the current IBMA banjo player of the year. My guess is that he’ll win it next year too. It’s hard to imagine any half decent banjo player out there now coming up with anything better in time for the next awards show.

“She Said She Will”

It’s difficult to single out individual musicians for praise here. They all bring many gifts to the table. Chris Luquette, winner of the IBMA’s Momentum Award, plays guitar in a way that will make aspiring flat-pickers want to a) practice more or b) give up entirely and Danny Booth makes a strong case for more bass solos everywhere with an epic break on “Country Song.” Talent alone doesn’t make a great band though and, thanks to the direction of Mr. Solivan, they conspire to produce a work worth more than the sum of its parts.

Ever since Bill Monroe implored devotees of his music to get their own style, it’s become increasingly difficult to distinguish oneself musically from the plethora of acoustic music offerings out there today. It’s a real challenge to find a unique sound in a genre that prides itself on honoring tradition; this is where Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen excel. At the heart of this is Frank’s mandolin technique. When listening, you can tell who it is. This development of a personal style is what most musicians aim for, though only few succeed. His solos are well crafted, original and technically impressive but it’s his thoughtful rhythm playing that makes the greatest contribution to the band’s overall sound. Check out “Yeah Man” for a prime example of the band’s instrumental prowess.

Cold Spell offers something for everyone, musically speaking. There’s the catchy “Say It Isn’t So,” the driving “No Life In This Town” (with awesome high harmony from John Cowan) and the evocative title track “Cold Spell.” For sheer originality, I like “Better (Days Go By)” which neatly encapsulates everything that makes Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen worth listening to.

This album will be available from all reputable music outlets on August 12th. If you can’t wait that long I suggest you catch them live at one of their many appearances throughout the summer where their energetic performances are sure to impress even the most seasoned festival-goers.

The best music always defies categorization. The instruments featured will inevitably lead people to call it bluegrass. Some will call it Roots and others Americana. I say call it whatever you like, just make sure to give it a listen.

Compass Records

Iain Birchwood

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