ALBUM REVIEW

FRANK SOLIVAN

FAMILY FRIENDS & HEROES

for The Lot Scene by Bill Rudd

Frank Solivan is well on his way to becoming one of the biggest names in contemporary bluegrass. His award-winning ensemble Dirty Kitchen has found an audience that appreciates the genre's traditions while at the same time embraces its progression. This Compass Records release may be the first project solely titled in his name since 2006's Selfish Tears but there's nothing "solo" about it. This record features appearances from over a half-dozen of Frank’s family members as well as several of modern bluegrass’ biggest names. With Family, Friends & Heroes Frank moves beyond the confines of bluegrass and into a realm of pure emotion expressed through music. 

1. Pretty Woman: Mercy! The album kicks off with the familiar Roy Orbison tune and has the legendary Del McCoury singing along for its duration. While Dirty Kitchen bandmates Mike Munford, Chris Luquette, and Danny Booth provide awesome instrumentals as always, this song is made great by the chemistry between Solivan and McCoury. Their voices play off each other perfectly until the band goes on a jammed-out break that teases of The Beatles' classic "Day Tripper", a very cool touch in this playful opening number.

2. Mask, Snorkel, & Fins: The first of Frank's original songs on the record features an island vibe which is imbued by harmony vocals from his Hawaiian cousins Ernie and John Cruz. Solivan’s mandolin shines when it takes over the melody line, while the interplay between the steel drums and banjo is brilliant. This track has a genuine transportational quality that makes you feel like you’re on a sandy beach enjoying a luau with Frank's family and friends.

3. The Fishin' Song: Frank changes things up with a bluesy relationship parable told through the eyes of a fisherman, composed by his cousin Tyson Smith. Jim Hurst' guitar and Frank's mando trade off nicely while Mike Bub's bass line bounces along. The humorous lyrics are the song's selling point and Solivan's casual delivery helps create a matching comedic tone.

4. I'm a Rambler: The album takes a serious turn with a ballad Frank penned about the perils of life on the road. This is the kind of pretty country song that probably could have sold a million copies in the 80's or 90's. The instrumentation includes superstars Sam Bush on mandolin and Jerry Douglas on dobro, but in the end, it's Solivan’s voice and lyrics that make the the song remarkable. Fans of FSDK will pick up on a subtle reference to Cold Spell’s “She Said She Will” when he says, “I won’t like I knew I would.”

5. Cazenovia Casanova: This luscious instrumental picks up the pace and features Frank’s only appearance on fiddle. Sam's mandolin and Jerry's dobro are back bringing the heat and mix marvelously with rest of Dirty Kitchen. Each picker performs as expertly as advertised in what makes for a smoldering contemporary fiddle tune. 

6. Mexico: Frank's talented cousin Megan McCormick takes the lead on this haunting song about longing for a different life. Their voices blend beautifully with Solivan's guitar serving as their only accompaniment. The minimalist approach works wonderfully and allows the listener to firmly focus on the escapist lyrics.

7. Dark Hollow: Another shining example of "less is more," the duo of Frank and Sam Bush show us why Dark Hollow is one of the most popular pickin' tunes of all time. Their mandolins delightfully duel during the breaks and provide a driving rhythm throughout. While Solivan's singing of this classic is above and beyond anything you're likely to find around a campfireside jam session, this track gives us a glimpse the of magic that often occurs backstage in a bluegrass green room.

8. You Don't Write: We're back to the islands with another tune that showcases the stellar assortment of instruments Frank’s brought together for this recording. Leon Alexander's percussion kicks things off nicely and Jerry Douglas' dobro definitely stands out when paired with the steel drums. The lyrics are certainly sad and lonely but the song’s tempo is so upbeat you can't help but dance along with the rhythm coming from Booth's bass, Luquette’s guitar, and of course Solivan’s mandolin. 

9. Put Me in Your Pocket: Frank sings this loving lullaby that the liner notes describe as one of his mom's signature songs. It again matches him with cousin Megan McCormick, creating a chemistry that is palpable in the choruses. Frank's mandolin carves out a gorgeous melody while Megan carries the rhythm on guitar until adding a lovely solo of her own. Despite being a slower song, the words offer an uplifting glimmer of the hopefulness that real love provides, even in times of sadness.

10. I Still Miss Someone: This classic Cash country tune is carried by Frank's cousin Teresa Michel's velvety voice and his longtime friend Rob Icke's magnificent dobro. The slow swing allows room for the instruments to express themselves and even includes a sharp banjo part from Frank’s dad. The chorus’ three part vocal harmonies by Teresa, Frank, and Shawn Camp are simply splendorous and unforgettable.

11. When the Leaves Turn Brown: The mandolin is brought to the forefront here, as Ronnie McCoury joins Frank on the instrument. The two trade lightning quick licks while Frank Sr. backs them up on guitar. Unlike the album's first instrumental song this old time fiddle tune is as traditional as it gets and an excellent example of why Frank and Ronnie are two of bluegrass' most respected mandolinists, despite their progressive tendencies.   

12. Leaving on a Jet Plane: One of Frank's many talents is putting his own unique stamp on a song you've heard a thousand times. This John Denver standard gets the Dirty Kitchen treatment with their usual expert instrumentals. Frank's mando break picks out the song's famous melody so sublimely you'd think it was written for the instrument. The addition of John Cowan's distinct vocal styling on the chorus' high harmony pairs perfectly with Solivan’s lead and makes for a memorable performance.

13. Wayfaring Stranger: Frank's beloved mother Lorene is undeniably the heart of this album and her singing here is supremely soulful. The song opens with a masterful mandolin intro by Frank before Lorene takes control with her extraordinary vocals. You can practically hear her smile as she savors sitting in with her incredible son and his impressive band. Sadly, Lorene passed away in 2014 but her final recording serves as a tremendous tribute to the love and joy shared by a mother and son.

14. Are You Missing Me: The final track on this album is exceptionally fitting as it encompasses all of the album's themes. “Are You Missing Me” is a sweet but sad country love ballad with subtle island undertones in the instrumentation. Frank’s cousin Megan McCormick returns to sing the lead on this song written by her grandparents. Once again her voice is superbly complemented by Solivan's echoing harmony during the chorus. The instrumental outro leaves the listener with a splendid sense of peacefulness as the composition comes to a close.

Frank Solivan has accomplished something truly special by combining his formidable band mates and talented friends with his terrific cousins and amazing parents. He’s carefully chosen songs that highlight the incredible influence of music on his life and arranged them in a manner that demonstrates his mastery of the craft. The range of genuine emotion that Frank has managed to capture is as varied and impressive as the amount of instruments on the record. He’s clearly put every ounce of his heart into this project and his listenership is being rewarded with the result. In the end, Family, Friends & Heroes is more than just another outstanding album, it’s an audible tribute to the people who make Frank Solivan possible. 

You can purchase Frank Solivan's new album on iTunes at the link directly below:

or through Compass Records' website here: https://compassrecords.com/album.php?id=1095

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