Fans of Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen’s live show will certainly enjoy the band’s latest effort, Cold Spell, a ten-track collection out now from Compass Records. The songs here are full of the group’s impressive musicianship – lots of extended instrumental solos, rock-influenced grooves, and the inventive, progressive style that is quickly becoming their trademark. The addition of Rob Ickes on most of the tracks adds an extra layer to their already tightly-woven sound.
Cold Spell has more of a lonesome feel than the group’s previous efforts, full of haunting melodies and mournful vocals. Solivan is an excellent vocalist – his high lonesome isn’t the same high lonesome of Bill Monroe, but it’s powerful nonetheless. Mighty powerful. The album’s opening song, Say It Isn’t So, is a nice showcase of this. Written by Megan McCormick (who also contributes high harmonies), it’s urgent and heartbreaking, the story of a man who “can’t stop from wanting you.” The title track has a similar feel. Ickes’ dobro sets the tone with a chilly intro, and both the music and vocals seem a bit restrained (though still spot-on), matching the song’s story.
The album as a whole has a fairly slow pace, with the band spending more time setting the mood than on hot licks. This doesn’t bring down the quality of the album, but simply gives the musicians a greater opportunity to stretch their boundaries. Mike Munford’s banjo playing stands out here in particular. Last year’s IBMA Banjo Player of the Year, Munford has a decidedly progressive style. Here, in his hands, the banjo is transformed into something entirely different from what is usually heard in bluegrass. While Munford’s original, toe-tapping tune Yeah Man puts his instrument in the forefront, it is used best on several other tracks: gently and melodically, evoking the sadness and sorrow that seems to run through the album.
>A few highlights of Cold Spell are She Said She Will (co-written by Solivan and Charles Tyson Smith), which has a folk-rock vibe and a bitter lover leaving a fickle woman, and the melancholy Better (Days Go By), another from McCormick’s pen. Country Song, a Pure Prairie League number from the early 1970s, has been a staple of the group’s live performances for a while, and it’s recorded here in similar fashion – energetic, with a no-holds-barred jam session at the end, making it clock in at over eight minutes.
The album closes out with the folk-pop Missing You, a lilting ode to details of life lived without the one the singer loves. It’s pensive and thoughtful, and helped along by the instantly recognizable harmony vocals of Sam Bush and John Cowan. The band switches up their instruments a bit for this one, with Solivan playing guitar, Bush on mandolin, and regular guitarist Chris Luquette playing octave mandolin.
Solivan, Munford, Luquette, and Danny Booth (bass) are some of the most talented musicians, both vocally and instrumentally, playing in the bluegrass world right now. What they’re playing isn’t traditional, but it isn’t meant to be. Cold Spell takes the group in a bit of a different direction than what fans have heard on their previous albums, but it’s still a fine example of progressive grass.
For more information on Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen, visit their website at www.dirtykitchenband.com. Their new album can be purchased from a variety of online music retailers.