For Penguin Eggs
Frank Solivan spent much of his youth in Alaska, which perhaps accounts for his range of talents. He is a hunter, a fisherman, a poet. He plays guitar, violin, and mandolin. He writes songs, sings, and is the leader of Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen, the IBMA band of the year in 2014 and again in 2016. Their album, Cold Spell, was nominated for the Grammy for 2015’s best bluegrass album of the year. Solivan is also a professional chef, something hinted at by the band name as well as the title of this collection, “If You Can’t Stand the Heat.”
In his life, as in his cooking, he is keen to take chances, to go out on a limb, and to meet challenges with drive, dedication, and rabid ambition. That’s been evident throughout his career, but is particularly evident here. His mandolin playing alone is a big draw–tight, efficient, clean–though his voice is as well. This is bluegrass very much in the vein of the Punch Brothers and New Grass Revival a generation before: it roams the breadth of a very large musical territory. The players are at the top of their classes; the arrangements atypical for bluegrass, deploying a unique brand of confidence and gymnastic ability; the material unique, surprising. Mike Munford’s “Crack of Noon” is a standout, as is a take on Steely Dan’s “Rikki Don’t Lose that Number.”
The band can risk sounding a bit too perfect at times, a bit on the academic side, and there’s a pong of a pissing match in any bluegrass endeavour. But they rein that in, and the sounds, the voices, work fantastically well together. Where some tunes, such as “Lena,” take us closer to the core of the tradition, others, such as “Shiver” take us further out. “My Own Way” is a beautiful ballad that allows a nice break from the challenge of tunes like “Crave.” The band demands a lot of the listener, delivers on everything it promises.