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Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen

On The Edge – 2013 (Compass)

Reviewed by Kevin Oliver

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CDs by Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen

Modern bluegrass can sometimes be a sanitized affair, with crystal clean recordings and slick arrangements taking most of the soul out of the mountain songs and traditional origins of the music. Frank Solivan isn't a raw Stanley Brothers style performer, but he has left enough grit and substance in his music to keep it far away from mainstream mediocrity.

Solivan's main instrument is the mandolin, and there are plenty of moments here where he shines on solos and runs, but the focus is more on the songs and the band as a whole - banjo player Mike Munford gets some quality time up front on the instrumental tracks especially, including the driving newgrass of M80.

Solivan's cousin Megan McCormick, a singer-songwriter herself, contributes Gone, while musician and journalist Jon Weisberger co-wrote On the Edge of Letting Go, with a gut punch of a chorus: Every time we meet it's a gamble, never know if you'll be high or low, Solivan sings in an appropriately maudlin tone. Other songs from outside writers include the unlikely but excellent cover of The Box Tops '60s hit song The Letter, which works so well that it sounds like a lost bluegrass classic.

The material here stretches out into Sam Bush/newgrass territory several times, most notably on the blues-drenched and slightly funky Too Far Gone, which at six and a half minutes also allows room for the band to flex their musical muscles a bit. One can imagine that a live version of this one could extend indefinitely.

Not being beholden to the traditional or the mainstream bluegrass scenes, Solivan has arrived at a middle ground that incorporates a little of both, with a few twists to keep things interesting. It's a recipe that makes this 'Kitchen' more spicy than 'Dirty', no matter what the ingredients.