If you had to be inside on a drop dead gorgeous Sunday afternoon in Washington, I couldn’t imagine a better place than sitting in the sun-drenched hall of Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church listening to the incredible musicianship of Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen.
The Dirty Kitchen Band is on a roll. Besides making the More to Come… Best of Bluegrass 2013 list (a high honor indeed!), banjoist Mike Munford is the 2013 International Bluegrass Music Association (IMBA) Banjo player of the year, while guitarist Christ Luquette is the IBMA Instrumentalist of the Year Momentum Award winner. Bluegrass Today said that with their second release (On the Edge), “Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen could now be reaching the kind of name recognition that puts them into any conversation about the elite contemporary bands.” And what other band is fronted by a chef who will whip up a special meal for you prior to the concert (and hence the name).
Their two-hour show as part of the Concerts at Cedar Lane series showcased tunes old and new, all played with an incredibly high level of musicianship. They opened with July You’re a Woman from the band’s debut album, and quickly mixed in tunes from a new Compass Records release coming this summer. The jazzy Days Gone By written by Solivan’s cousin Megan McCormick, was a highlight of the new tunes. A couple of traditional gospel tunes – Cryin’ Holy and Wayfaring Stranger, the latter sung by Solivan’s mother – nodded to the traditional roots of bluegrass.
But when the Dirty Kitchen Band stretched their chops, they were impressive indeed. The arrangements were tight, controlled, yet still exhilarating. A reworking of Pure Prairie League’s Country Song allowed these musicians to showcase their prowess. When Solivan switched to his mandola, the musical timbre grew darker and more complex.
For me, the highlight was toward the end of the second set when Luquette hit the opening notes of the Tony Rice instrumental Is That So from the Mar West album. In the hands of Luquette, Solivan, and the Dirty Kitchen Band, Rice’s beautiful tune was respected and expanded. Munford’s banjo added a new dimension not found on the original, and bassist Dan Booth anchored this jazzy tune with the same strong musicianship he demonstrated all afternoon. We don’t hear enough of Tony’s instrumental songbook in acoustic music today. This was a terrific arrangement that I hope will end up on a future Dirty Kitchen album.
The Letter and an encore “for friends, old and new” ended what was a very satisfying afternoon of bluegrass. Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen are playing a few more dates in the metro DC area this summer, in addition to major festivals such as Telluride and Grey Fox. If you get the chance to hear this band, do yourself a favor and check them out. Until then, enjoy the video of The Letter, as Solivan, Munford, and Luquette trade solos back and forth with all the ease and skill you expect from such a pot boiler of a band.
More to come…