Solivan’s Travels

Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen are cooking up the sound of All Grass

Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen
Singer and mandolin player Frank Solivan is helping to redefine the sound of bluegrass.

When he steps onstage with Dirty Kitchen – a highly skilled quartet that includes banjo player Mike Munford, guitarist Chris Luquette and Jeremy Middleton, who trades off on electric and stand up bass – their progressive sound often leaves fans at a loss. “People are always trying categorize our sound,” Solivan says. “They come up to us after gigs and say, ‘What do you play? Jam grass? Newgrass? Country?’ They try and pigeonhole us, so they can figure it out. We tell ‘em we play ‘All Grass,’ contemporary acoustic bluegrass and all the styles that relate to it.”

Solivan grew up in a musically omnivorous home and his wide-ranging taste informs the band’s music. “My parents and grandparents played acoustic music, but they loved soul, rock and R&B,” Solivan says. “When my parents went to concerts, they took me along. Tower of Power, Ray Charles, old time fiddle contests and jam sessions. At family gatherings, everyone would whip out an instrument and start playing. At the time, I didn’t think anything of it. Looking back, I see I was fortunate to be surrounded by music. It helped shape the trajectory of what I’m doing today. If we’re playing a gig and my dad is around, we’ll always get him to sit in on a tune or two.”

Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen If You Can’t Stand The Heat, Compass Records 2019

On their latest album, If You Can’t Stand The Heat, a set Solivan co-produced with bluegrass icon Alison Brown, the quartet continues showcasing their ability to shift seamlessly between styles. Solivan contributes “Be Sure,” a heartfelt country ballad. Mike Mumford wrote the blistering bluegrass instrumental “Crack of Noon.” Solivan’s cousin, songwriter and guitarist Meg McCormick, brought in “Shiver,” a melody with hints of R&B in its changes. “It moves from five to 6/8; it was a challenge to record,” Solivan says. “Bluegrass is usually evenly metered, but I grew up listening to James Brown, Aretha and Little Milton. Those sounds are always circling around in my brain, and I want to let them out.”

Another left field excursion is Steely Dan’s “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number,” perhaps the most unexpected cover on the album. “Jeremy, our bass player, sings lead on that one,” Solivan says. “We wanted to let people hear everything we can do on this record and that was a good stretch. We were playing it on the road, but reshaped it for the recording. It’s a lift from the original, so we had to fill the keyboard and drum parts with our strings to put our on stamp on it. We wanted to hold true to the song and still have it sound like us.

“This is our 20th year as a band,” Solivan concludes. “We’ve evolved over the years and focus on making something meaningful happen every time we perform, without overplaying. When you’re in front of people, their response feeds the part of you that’s creative, and suddenly, you don’t worry about anything other than the connection between you and the people. It’s the moment every musician is always looking for. On a spiritual level, I try to get into that feeling every time I play. Life is not a dress rehearsal. I don’t want to be mailing it in. The lyric of ‘My Own Way,’ another song written by my cousin Meg [McCormick] says, ‘You don’t want any moment to pass you by, because it may never come again.’ I want to remind the audience, and myself, that every moment is precious.”

 

j. poet

j. poet has been writing about music for most of his adult life. He has contributed to the San Francisco Chronicle, East Bay Express, Harp, Paste, Grammy.com, PlanetOut.com, American Profile, Creem, Relix, Downbeat, Folk Roots, New Noise and more national and international publications and websites than he can remember. He wrote most of the Musichound Guide to World Music (Visible Ink, 2000) and had two stories in Best Rock Writing 2014 (That Devil Music). He has interviewed a wide spectrum of artists including Leonard Cohen, Merle Haggard and Godzilla. He lives in San Francisco. 

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