With their last album earning Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen a 2015 GRAMMY Nomination for Best Bluegrass Album, the eagerly anticipated Family, Friends & Heroes released March 4th to great critical acclaim. This genre stretching album provides a generous glimpse into Solivan’s work that pays homage to his family members and features the pristine playing of his closest musical heroes, including Del McCoury, Rob Ickes, Jerry Douglas, Sam Bush, Ronnie McCoury, John Cowan, Mike Bub, Shawn Camp and Megan McCormick.
Since Frank Solivan left the cold climes of Alaska for the bluegrass hotbed of Washington, D.C., he’s built a reputation as a monster mandolinist — and become a major festival attraction with his band, Dirty Kitchen. Solivan, with banjoist Mike Munford, 2013 IBMA Banjo Player of the Year, award winning guitarist Chris Luquette and bassist Jeremy Middleton, simmer a bluegrass/newgrass stew from instrumental, vocal and songwriting skills so hot, they’ve been named Washington Area Music Association’s Best Bluegrass Band of the Year for four consecutive years.
At the highest levels of acoustic musicianship exists a mystery — the mystery of tone, taste and timing… It can best be illustrated by giving a good musician a good instrument and asking him to briefly strum, pick, bow, — whatever is required to produce the best sound. Then, by way of comparison, hand that very same instrument to a GREAT musician and ask for the same.
It is a phenomenon that manifests itself every time that Frank Solivan picks up a mandolin, guitar or violin. What you see may be the same pick or bow, on the same strings, on the same fretboard that the good player demonstrated, but the sound… Ah… there’s the difference!
In Frank’s hands, these instruments take on a life of their own. You hear power. You hear volume. You hear crispness, clarity, timing and taste. All combined with passion and drive. A physicist might slow it down to analyze the strum against string — but he wouldn’t find the answer. For that, you have to know Frank Solivan, a man who has a powerful life force that’s as raw, natural and pure as the place he spend much of his youth, Alaska. Frank is a hunter, a fisherman, a gourmet chef, a beautiful singer, a poet and songwriter of tasteful ballads and of blazing instrumentals. A man of sturdy build who is known to holler out out a powerful, “Son!” whether it be in response to a hot solo, or some hot sauce he concocted in kitchen. It’s as if all these things for him are an affirmation of life. An awareness that all five senses are humming along on overdrive. That life is short and all these gifts are not to be wasted.
Those who are privileged enough to be around it, are richer for it. Musicians, especially, in his presence step up their game, but I suppose you could say the same about gourmands, or fishermen. People sense that life force around Frank and they want a piece of it.
The physicist curious about the mysteries of tone, timing and taste would do well to spend some time around Frank. He would find no definition, no explanation of how it happens but he would see it right there. And you should, too.
Mike is one of the hidden treasures of the five string banjo world. Mike grew up in the sixties and seventies in the bluegrass hotbed of Baltimore and D.C. and assimilated just about everything that all the great players in that area could offer. Then he took off on his own. How best to describe him? Imagine this conversation among banjo players huddled around a fire at some pickin’ party or festival.
“How did J.D. do that lick? ”
“I dunno, but Munford’s over there, ask him.”
“I just got a “37 Granada but it ain’t sounding like it should…”
“Have you taken it to Munford? Best set-up guy around.”
“Damn! Why can’t I get that tone?”
“I dunno… go watch Munford, He’s right over there.”
Now well past forty years old — the age at which, they say, life begins, Mike Munford retains a child like enthusiasm and curiosity for all things banjo. He has no qualms about driving hours through rush hour traffic to go see J.D. Crowe play at some obscure club… then rave about the performance even though he might have seen it or heard it dozens, maybe hundreds or times. He has imbibed everything that J.D., or Earl, or Bela, has thrown his way — and can mimic those players with uncanny accuracy, but has found his own style, too.
It can best be described as hard-driving melodic… but such a description diminishes what’s actually going on. When Mike Munford plays you hear all things that great banjo player strive to achieve. Power, drive, impeccable timing, exquisite tone and jaw-dropping technique.
Mike is also, indeed, about the finest set-up or fret job guy around, and is a walking encyclopedia of banjo trivia. He is an inspiration to countless players in the mid – Atlantic region.
Most of the country hasn’t really seen all that much of Mike’s playing. He, throughout most of his career, has preferred the comforts of home to the road. It is testament to Frank Solivan’s powers of persuasion ( i.e. talent) that Mike is hitting the road as a part of this fine ensemble.
Jeremy Middleton grew up on the outskirts of Cincinnati, Ohio. Surrounded by a family of professional musicians and vocalists, it wasn’t long before he absorbed some of that talent, and he toured Western Europe at the age of 10 as a member of the Cincinnati Boychoir. After years of ruining and breaking his father’s guitar strings, he was handed his first bass at 13 (and told to stay off said father’s guitar). By 15, Dad was hauling Jeremy out of bed on school nights to play on nightclub gigs – and by 18, Jeremy had auditioned and left home to join the US Army Band Program.
After 10 years in the Army and a deployment to Iraq, he switched to the US Navy Music Program, spending 5 years with the US Navy Band Country Current. Frank and Jeremy briefly crossed paths in Country Current, but made fast friends – and with Frank’s help, Jeremy quickly found himself immersed in the DC bluegrass scene and was an original member of DC favorites Big Chimney.
Jeremy retired from Country Current in 2014, he moved his family to Nashville to be closer to the grandparents of his 3 kids, and to continue playing with some of the finest musicians in the country. He has been lucky enough to play with the likes of Rickie Simpkins, Akira Otsuka, Avril Smith, Becky Warren and The Great Unknowns, and The Tim McDonald Band featuring Johnny Hiland.
Chris is one of the hardest working musicians from the Seattle music scene. You’d be hard pressed to find another twenty-something year old seamlessly switching from International Music to Jazz and from Rock to Bluegrass so comfortably. He has even studied Brazilian Jazz with Seattle based Brazil music legend, Jovino Santos Neto. Chris’ musicianship reflects the multitude of musical influences he turns to for inspiration. His acoustic guitar playing really stands out, but this virtuosic, multi-instrumentalist is equally at home playing mandolin, drums, bass, electric guitar, banjo, and Greek bouzouki! In addition, Chris was a founding member of Seattle based, Northern Departure, and has found himself sitting in with Jerry Douglas, Emmylou Harris, Rob Ickes and many others. Don’t miss an opportunity to hear him shred his Martin guitar in half!