Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen are poised to become a lasting force in bluegrass and also demonstrate the potential for broader success.
If Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen have been “up and coming” for some time now, then Cold Spell, their third release, signals their arrival loud and clear. Winners of this year’s International Bluegrass Music Association Best Instrumental Group Award, the Washington D.C.-based band features singer and mandolin virtuoso Frank Solivan, along with last year’s IBMA Award-winner for banjo, Mike Munford, bassist Danny Booth, and well-traveled guitarist Chris Luquette. Veterans of four years touring the festival circuit, this band is tight and at the top of their form.
Cold Spell offers an economical 10 cuts with not a note out of place, a model of smart song selection and masterful playing. Opener “Say It Isn’t So” introduces Solivan’s strong tenor voice and the band’s stunning harmony vocals (Booth on high harmony, Luquette on low) as they project the melancholy of unrequited love: “Living in a lullabye / wakes you up and makes you cry / All the things that I can do / I can’t stop from wanting you.” The band continues to put the “blue” in bluegrass with the next three songs. The jumpy, upbeat scuffle of “No Life in This Town” betrays the downtrodden truth that another lover has gotten away and taken all joy with her: “The streetlights don’t shine / liquor store’s out of wine / the old honky-tonk has closed down.” The bluesy “She Said She Will” offers the pithy, knowing lament of one exposed to too many tired promises: “She said she will but she won’t like I knew she would.” Finally, the stunning title track sums up all of the above heartache. The singers, again, offer beautiful harmony as they arrive at the necessary conclusion: “It’s another cold spell again.” Dobro master Rob Ickes lends his instrument to the delicate weave of plucked notes that grounds this song in wintery isolation. The instrumental “Yeah Man” rounds out what would be side one of the vinyl version of Cold Spell, highlighted by Solivan’s chiming mandolin playing, which brings to mind another D.C.-based bluegrass musician, Eddie D’Zmura, longtime mandolinist for the Johnson Mountain Boys.
Things don’t get any better for the forlorn lovers of this world on “side two”, but the music continues to shine as four more songs of heartbreak and another fine instrumental balance the album’s second half. Of particular note here is Booth’s jazzy bass interlude and the interwoven, extended jam between Solivan’s mandolin and Munford’s banjo on “Country Song”, driving yet delicate as lace. “Missing You” caps off the bad feelings as the song’s narrator sits alone in a movie theater “sipping on my Coke / The movie stars are making love and my heart is broke.” Rarely has romantic disappointment sounded so good.
A number of special guests assist throughout Cold Spell, including the already mentioned Ickes, who appears on half the cuts. “Newgrass” innovator Sam Bush lends his mandolin and vocals to “Missing You”. John Cowen and Megan McCormick also supply harmony vocals on the album, with McCormick, additionally, offering her songwriting skills on “Say It Isn’t So” and “Better (Days Go By)”. The focus, though, is always on the four members of this highly original and dexterous band. With Cold Spell, Solivan, Munford, Booth, and Luquette are poised to become a lasting force in the bluegrass community, and also exhibit strong potential to cross over into even broader success.