- Frank Solivan is an impressive individual.
He is the lead voice, mandolinist and director of Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen, a Grammy-nominated and IBMA-award winning (for the coveted gong Best Instrumental Band) outfit from Washington DC. As well as being a super group of musicians, they have great songs with complexities that rise above the traditional Southern bluegrass standard, and they infuse their work with great harmonies. I have seen them live a few times now, both in Raleigh NC and Nashville TN and they are a unbridled pleasure to behold.
They cut the mustard in the studio as well and their last album Cold Spell (2014) was one of my favourites of that year.
Then there's Frank The Chef. At last year's AmericanaFest in the famed Station Inn, Frank put on a huge home-cooked delicacy for the entire gathering. I suspect that my friend Sandra and I will never forget that meal.
Now here we have a solo project - Family Friends & Heroes (Compass Records) which is a wonderful venture with many pleasing facets. Actually, it is hardly a solo release. Frank has called in some of the best players and performers in realising his vision. These include members of Dirty Kitchen (Danny Booth, Chris Luquette and Mike Munford), two of the best dobro players in the world (Jerry Douglas and Rob Ickes), award-winning bass player Mike Bubb, the legendary Sam Bush, Del McCoury and Ronnie McCoury, Shawn Camp and John Cowan.
Solivan's inspiration for Family Friends & Heroes revolves both around his recently-deceased mother and wanting to record with his extended family. His mother, Lorene, passed away in July 2014 and, although he never got to record with her, there is here a delightful, raw version of 'Wayfaring Stranger' which features Lorene singing and thanking the live audience humbly, her last recording.
There are plenty of family influences on this collection - Solivan's father playing banjo and guitar, various cousins singing and writing songs for this project which adds to its warmth and charm.
The album contains respectful covers of two monster hits - Roy Orbison's 'Pretty Woman' (with Del McCoury on high harmonies) and John Denver's 'Leaving On A Jet Plane' (with Cowan's wonderful tenor) which have sufficient revision to make them new experiences. There are nods to traditional material, with the aforementioned 'Wayfaring Stranger', the spritely 'When The Leaves Turn Brown' and Bill Browning's 'Dark Hollow' (only two mandolins and vocals filling out the space incredibly).
Cousins contributed the amusing 'The Fishin' Song' and 'You Don't Write'. Solivan penned the jubilant 'Mask, Snorkel and Fins', the sizzling instrumental 'Cazenovia Casanova' (with Douglas, Bush and all of Dirty Kitchen) and the touchingly resonating 'I Am A Rambler", with magnificent contributions from Douglas, Munford and Bush.
Cousin Megan McCormack's lead vocals in the wistful 'Mexico' are a treat and the album closer 'Are You Missing Me' is another emotional and musical highpoint.
Family Friends & Heroes is a triumph on so many levels and it is a reminder of the unbridled power of music when talent meets emotional honesty.
- Pretty Woman
- Mask, Snorkel and Fins
- The Fishin’ Song
- I Am A Rambler
- Cazenovia Casanova
- Dark Hollow
- You Don’t Write
- Put Me In Your Pocket
- I Still Miss Someone
- When the Leaves Turn Brown
- Leaving on a Jet Plane
- Wayfaring Stranger
- Are You Missing Me