If you’ve been to a bluegrass show or festival, you have sure felt that friendly, familial vibe that comes from the positivity and joy of the music’s energetic, upbeat presence. Bluegrass songs rarely shy away from pain and heartbreak, but the feeling of hearing a banjo or a mandolin makes it hard to hold back a smile. Veteran bluegrass players Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen seemed to have this in mind when they recorded their new album Family, Friends & Heroes, which comes out on March 4th on Compass Records.
The album is the result of a lifetime devoted to music, especially for frontman and expert picker Frank Solivan, who grew up in a large family of musicians. He features some of those family members on the album, including a charming duet with his own mother Lorene, who passed away in 2014, on “Wayfaring Stranger”. Solivan also brings in a handful of big names in the bluegrass world of whom he has met along a journey that has earned him and his band numerous accolades, including a 2015 Grammy nomination for Best Bluegrass Album. Those friends include the likes of Del McCoury, Jerry Douglas and Sam Bush, among others.
Glide Magazine is excited to present one of the album’s standout collaborations, a beautifully unfiltered and natural rendition of Bill Browning’s classic “Dark Hollow”, a song many know for the version performed by the Grateful Dead. The tune captures these two massively talented musicians in their natural habitat, jamming simply for the joy of it.
Talking about how “Dark Hollow” came about, Frank Solivan says, “When Sam Bush came in to work on a couple of original songs of mine, he was prepared with handwritten charts and ideas of what he would play. After he was done with all of the tracking on ‘Cazenovia Casanova’ and ‘I Am A Rambler’, I asked if he’d mind playing a duet with me. After all, the mics were still set up from a previous day. The first song that came to mind was ‘Dark Hollow’. Sam graciously agreed to play it with me and the organic picking ensued. We didn’t even wear headphones. Besides the exciting music, just the mics and air filled the space between us and those honest vibes come through on the track.”
Give a listen to Frank Solivan and Sam Bush on “Dark Hollow”, and while you listen, make sure to check out our conversation with Solivan about the new album Family, Friends & Heroes:
Where did the idea for an album of family and friends come from?
It kind of evolved from the ideas of a record with my mom and capturing the sounds of my family and friends. Having some heroes in the mix seemed to make sense too! Here’s the first couple of lines from the liner notes…
“I’ve always wanted to record a project with my talented Mother, Lorene. She left us July 27, 2014 so that will never come to fruition. Fortunately, we captured an impromptu, raw version of ‘Wayfaring Stranger’ while helping Airshow Mastering host an event at their recording studio. I love the applause from the control room at the end along with my mother’s sweet and humble, ‘Thank you’. It’s the last recording of her singing.”
The album opens with a fun cover of Roy Orbison’s “Pretty Woman” featuring Del McCoury. Is there a specific reason for opening with that tune?
“Pretty Woman” is Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen featuring Del McCoury. My mom always loved Roy Orbison and sang a couple of his songs, so this is a tribute to her. The first person that came to mind to sing the duet part was Del McCoury. Luckily he was willing to come into the studio and sing with me and my band. It’s a strong arrangement and new take on the original. I thought it would likely get some attention and love from DJs, listeners and fans, so I made it the first track.
Besides some collaborations with a few big names, this album also features your own family members, including your mother. What role did your family play in getting you into music (and bluegrass) growing up, and what made you feel like it was time to bring them into the mix with this album?
My mom actually sang a song on a previous solo record of mine. She sang, “Once in a Very Blue Moon” on my Selfish Tears project. I come from a large musical family on both sides. Some professional and others just jammed in the front room. I’ve always wanted to do a family based album. Maybe this will have to be Volume One, as there are many more talented folks in my brood and plenty more friends and heroes I want to record with!
Growing up in such a musical family, was there a sense of competition with your family members when it came to music?
Never competition. Music was more like medicine. I was competitive with myself more than anything.
You’ve mentioned the “living-room style” jams that went into recording this album. Can you talk a little bit about the process and what it was like working with so many different artists?
Like I mentioned before, jamming in the front room was always a constant. That vibe came through on much of the record. Here’s an excerpt from the liner notes again: “We didn’t do many overdubs and you can hear that we just set up mics and at times recorded in one room with lots of bleed over. It’s a sound I’m used to hearing in my life. The feeling of the front room or just jamming with family and friends. Enjoy and remember that love is all that matters in the end.”
You’re also a chef in addition to playing bluegrass. Are there any similarities about playing bluegrass and cooking?
I really consider myself as someone that loves to cook, someone that loves reading about cooking, someone that loves building new flavor memories by tasting new things…not a chef. Maybe a “self taught chef” as my mom put it. The relationship is that music and food bring people together. Food is the common denominator to sustain life and often defines a culture. Most cultures have their own musical identity as well. I think it’s only natural to put them together.
Family, Friends & Heroes comes out on March 4th. For more info on Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen visit dirtykitchenband.com.