For the record, I’d like to state I wish I was related to Frank Solivan. The Solivan family reunions must be the ultimate bluegrass festival/jam session you could ever imagine. Along with that family, and some additional friends, Solivan is recreating the spirit of that figurative event on his latest record, Family, Friends & Heroes. The joy on this record is palpable.
It starts from the very first song on the disc, a cover of the classic Pretty Woman, featuring Del McCoury on vocals (and the famous Mercy! exclamation) and Mike Munford on banjo. The Fishin’ Song, written by one of Frank’s cousins, is a tongue-in-cheek tale of woe filled with double entendres between fishing, the hobby, and “fishing” for a girlfriend. Speaking of cousins, another set of cousins add their vocals to a Jimmy Buffet-like song, Mask, Snorkel and Fins, about “eating rice, adobo, and drinking beer.” Although a little more wishful in its feel, another cousin, Megan McCormick (the singer/guitarist, not the actress) nails the vocals on Mexico.
Frank has also enlisted his more direct influences on this project. His dad, Frank Sr. on guitar, has a back-and-forth instrumental duel with Ronnie McCoury on mandolin in When the Leaves Turn Brown. Frank Sr. also plays banjo on the Johnny Cash-penned I Still Miss Someone that features Shawn Camp, Rob Ickes, and McCormick. The showstopper, though, is Frank’s mom (recently passed-this is the last time she performed) singing on Wayfaring Stranger, where at the end you can hear the control room yelling “Yeah!” to her performance. It doesn’t feature any family members, but I also have to call out the Frank and Sam Bush duet of Dark Hollow. It’s the best version I’ve ever heard. Ever.
Perhaps the most difficult thing to do in the music business is actually record the joie de vivre of a spectacular live performance. On his latest album, Family, Friends & Heroes, Frank Solivan has managed to capture that lightning in a bottle. It’s only March, but it’s hard to believe I’ll hear a better bluegrass album this year.
About the author: I've actually driven from Tehatchapee to Tonopah. And I've seen Dallas from a DC-9 at night.