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Frank Solivan

Family, Friends and Heroes – 2016 (Compass)

Reviewed by Fred Frawley

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CDs by Frank Solivan

Imagine yourself on a grassy bank, or in a camp chair, settling in on a steamy summer day, with a group of friends playing bluegrass music. Frank Solivan's "Family, Friends and Heroes" transports the listener to that place. Solivan's world of bluegrass is high and lonesome, but with powerful technical chops. His mandolin playing is stout, but uplifting, and provides the core to the CD. As the title suggests, Solivan is joined by many collaborators, and the result is an outpouring of feeling and love for the players and the music.

Dirty Kitchen is Frank's Solivan's touring and recording band. Although this CD is not credited as a Dirty Kitchen record, the band members are well-represented, including banjoist Mike Munford and Chris Luquette on guitar.

Some selections are outside of the bluegrass lane, but upon listening, their inclusion is well-justified. "Leaving on A Jet Plane," by now a time-worn tune, gets a lift from Munford's clever banjo fills and John Cowan's powerful tenor harmony. In the same way, Solivan's own composition, "Mask Snorkel and Fins" would fit nicely at a Jimmy Buffet concert, but his mandolin runs, delivered with island syncopation, make it special.

Solivan's late mother, Lorene, contributes powerful lead vocals, along with her son, on the traditional "Wayfaring Stranger." His dad, Frank Solivan Sr., appears on several cuts playing guitar and banjo.

The "friends" of the album's title deliver equally. Rob Ickes and Jerry Douglas each make appearances on Dobro. Solivan is a world-class mandolin player, so he feels comfortable matching licks with Ronnie McCoury on "When The Leaves Turn Brown" and Sam Bush on "Dark Hollow." The latter is especially tasty, with Solivan and Bush competitively melding their mandolin lines whilst at the same time challenging each other. There's a good reason why the CD credits on this song read "mandolin (right)" and "mandolin (left)," referring to Solivan and Bush respectively.

Solivan even enlists Del McCoury, the gateway drug of bluegrass music, to contribute high tenor harmony on Roy Orbison's "Pretty Woman." Munford's banjo nearly steals the show on the cut, even in the context of an iconic song and an iconic singer.

"Family, Friends and Heroes" may not be a bluegrass record, strictly speaking. But, it displays great heart and musicianship.