Blistering bluegrass from two-time Grammy nominees.
Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen are a progressive bluegrass band that have twice received Grammy nominations for Best Bluegrass album and, on the strength of this new album, it looks like they could make that a hat trick of nominations. Will it be a case of third time’s the charm?!
This is just a great set of bluegrass songs that grabs you from the get-go, and doesn’t let go! “Hold On” indeed. The album gets off to a flying start with opening track, ‘I’m Already Gone’, one of six tracks written or co-written by Frank Solivan himself (in this case, a co-write, with Jon Weisberger) and it fairly flies out of the traps. Driven by the fine banjo playing of band member Mike Munford, whose playing excels throughout this album, it’s a great opener to set the tone for the album, especially as the next track up is the title track ‘Hold On’, which maintains the fast pace set by the opener and is a very upbeat song about the need to stay positive in life, a song brought about by Solivan’s experiences during the pandemic.
Many bluegrass bands, especially on the progressive side of the music, have a tendency to think fast playing is the essence of the music and, while that can be exciting, an album that only contains pyrotechnic playing is one that can get dull surprisingly quickly. This band are clearly aware of that and don’t fall into the trap. After a rollicking start to the album they slow things down with one of the outstanding tracks on this recording, ‘Goodbye Goodbye’, another good track from the pen of Solivan himself, co-written with his cousin, singer/songwriter Megan McCormick. It’s a good song about finally realising when to let go –
“Didn’t wanna say Goodbye Goodbye/ Didn’t wanna say so long, for so long./Didn’t want to hurt you with this heavy heart I hide/ Just tryin’ to say goodbye”
The song is beautifully played, with the dobro work of guest player Rob Ickes being particularly notable. He also contributes to other songs on the album, such as ‘Modesto’ and ‘Queen of the Mountain’ and his playing is a real pleasure to hear.
The musicianship throughout this album is top-notch. In addition to having a very good voice, with a nice light tenor flavour, Frank Solivan is no slouch on the mandolin, and it was interesting to discover that he has sat in for Tim O’Brien when other commitments have prevented Tim from working with the Earls of Leicester. He contributes some nice chop chords and a tidy solo on ‘Find My Way’ and he really comes into his own on the album’s sole instrumental track, his own composition, ‘Scorchin’ the Gravy’, where he trades licks with Mike Munford’s banjo to fine effect and the whole band really tear it up. This is, apparently, a re-recording of the first track the band ever played together and it seems to have become something of a signature tune for this outfit. It was recorded without overdubs and really highlights the solid musicianship of the four-piece band, which is rounded out by guitarist Chris Luquette and bass player Jeremy Middleton.
Of the cover tracks on this recording, the stand out would have to be a fine reading of Newgrass Revival’s ‘Sail to Australia’, which features some particularly good harmony vocals. Sadly, it’s one of the cover tracks that also makes for the low point of the album. The band take on the old Orleans’ track, ‘Sails’, and it sounds strangely at odds with the rest of the album, coming across as more MOR than bluegrass. It’s taken at a slightly slower pace than the original and has a stripped back, singer/songwriter feel. It certainly shows that Solivan is as competent on guitar as he is on mandolin and there’s a fine harmony vocal from guest Jillian Lea. The track is well performed and, in a different setting, might not jar so much, but it just sounds odd juxtaposed with the other material on this album.
This is the fifth studio album from this band, with albums three and four both receiving Grammy nominations and, as previously noted, on the strength of this new recording a third nomination would come as no surprise; it’s an excellent album from a band who are, obviously, in fine form and firing on all cylinders. It’s just that closing track that seems a little puzzling.
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