Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen: (from left) Stefan Custodi, Mike Munford, Frank Solivan, Lincoln Meyers: coming out of nowhere, bound full-steam ahead for glory.

Out Of The Box, Bound For Glory
By David McGee

Fiddlemon Music

You know you’ve got something going for you when the dobro master nonpareil Rob Ickes ordains you “the best new bluegrass band.” Guess what? The estimable Mr. Ickes may have understated the case, if the level of playing, writing and singing on Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen’s self-titled debut is any indication. (Modesto, CA, native Solivan, who previously worked with the U.S. Navy’s highly regarded Country Current country/bluegrass band, had two solo albums to his credit before forming Dirty Kitchen.) Cue up the hard charging album opener,”Driftin’ Apart”—an incisive account of a couple coming undone from a thousand little wounds over the years and now paying the price “for lustful pleasures”—and once past the ferocity of the playing—an energizing wash of sound with the banjo, fiddle and mandolin all jumping in and out of the soundscape for pointed solos and engaging each other as well in spirited dialogue—the literacy of the lyrics begins sinking in, and you get jazzed all over again. Solivan doesn’t go for easy rhymes or conventional scenarios of love and loss; rather, in the details he suggests more complex and layered levels of insight, acknowledging the mystery of romantic bondings and the awful hurt of uncouplings, while also addressing topical issues along the way, in language both direct and poetic.

Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen, ‘Together We’ll Fly,’ a song about ‘new beginnings with the one you love,’ from the band’s debut album. Live at the 2010 Kootenai River Bluegrass Festival, July 16, 2010, Troy, Montana.

Solivan and his mates do this in both original Solivan songs—he might be the best new bluegrass songwriter, too, come to think of it—and some spot-on covers that might have been penned expressly for him and Dirty Kitchen. As deeply telling as Solivan’s breakup songs are, John Stewart’s beautiful “July, You’re a Woman,” a galloping, keening entry rich in fiddle and infectious “na-na-na-na” lyrical fillips—as well as a delightfully serpentine mandolin flight by Solivan himself—is a triumphantly buoyant and heartwarming a love song, with the slightest tinge of bittersweet humor. Love of a different type—that of pure, unbroken friendship reaching across the years—comes from the pen of Solivan’s cousin, Charles Tyson Smith, in the lilting, pastoral “Hello Friend,” and Solivan modulates his vocal just so, to emphasize the warmth and affection emanating from a fleeting encounter with someone he’s close to spiritually, if distant from geographically. Still another aspect of love is explored in the breezy “Together We’ll Fly,” a statement of purpose in which Solivan admits to being his own worst enemy—“I’ve been pinned way too long/to a course I knew was wrong”—but vows to get focused and find a successful path, contingent upon his beloved standing by him along the way. In what seems to be typical Solivan fashion, he takes potentially hackneyed sentiments and finds a fresh twist to turn them to his lyrical advantage: “it’s time to go out and do my thing/I don’t need a prayer or a wing/all I need is you by my side/and together we’ll fly” and “I ain’t scared of working hard/I’ll keep it real and do my part/all I need is you by my side/and together we’ll fly.” Not to be discounted, either, is an exquisitely lyrical instrumental passage in mid-song, in which the flatpicked guitar of Lincoln Meyers, Solivan’s high-spirited mandolin frolic and equally stirring fiddle support, Stefan Custodi’s solid, thumping bass, and the ebullient five-string banjo of Mike Munford underscore the self-affirming scenario Solivan offers in his lyrics.

Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen, live at a house concert in Sharon, MA, perform John Stewart’s ‘July, You’re a Woman, a buoyant, heartwarming love song, with the slightest tinge of bittersweet humor. A memorable cover from the band’s first album.

Leaving this theme, Solivan contributes two slice-of-life dramas of real impact. “Tarred and Feathered,” with John Cowan adding his distinctive crying tenor to enhance the song’s anxious mood, is a howl from the other side of the footlights, where glamour and celebrity are less a blessing than a curse to the working musician, who’s become weary of “two-faced women,” the nomadic lifestyle and the routine indignities of “picking my strings from town to town.” Tuneful though it is, this song is relentless in its bleak portrait of the wandering troubadour’s life. Even more abject is the homeless man Solivan depicts in “Left Out In the Cold,” a decorated war veteran haunted by the horrors of battle, ignored by passersby, alone in the world after a drunk driver killed his wife and son, now struggling to get by on the street. Needless to say, this isn’t one of those happy sounding bluegrass tunes that masks a tale of woe—the music is dark, ominous and borne ceaselessly ahead without relief, much as the days are for the homeless protagonist, with an instrumental break featuring Solivan’s ruminative, atmospheric mandolin conjuring textures both tender and tearful.

Given how Solivan tests his characters in various ways in his own songs, how appropriate for he and his mates to close with a Stanley Brothers tune, “Paul and Silas,” a couple of fellows who knew from being tested. Based on the Biblical tale and using the repeated refrain, “Who shall deliver for me?” the song’s spiritual yearning, its subjects’ resilience and its ultimate victorious uplift in bracing four-part southern gospel harmony make it the perfect benediction for a truly stunning debut effort. I would say “remember the name—Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen,” except that anyone who hears even a bit of this music will never forget its point of origin. Talk about a band coming out of nowhere and bound for greater glory, this is it.

Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen is available at

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (
Website Design: Kieran McGee (
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY;, Alicia Zappier (New York)
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024