Munford and Son!

I’ve been waiting a long time to use that headline, but that’s the life of a pun hunter (or punter as we’re known by some). One must have patience and cunning. But I admit this one, which occurred to me a couple years ago, takes some unpacking. Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen is one of my favorite bands, and a big part of that is their smoking instrumental chops, and a big part of that is banjo player Mike Munford, a fountain of tasty licks and musical ideas. The other thing you need to know is from bluegrass lore. Guitar god Tony Rice was likely to holler out “Son!” at a moment when the music got particularly good or a solo had truly achieved transcendence. So Frank and company kind of adopted the expression and put it on stickers that you can put on your instrument case. I have one on my shrine of stickers, because FSDK regularly inspire me to holler “Son!” And thus was I able to mangle the name of a certain popular yet controversial English folk pop ensemble.

I had a strong case of Tony Rice Exclamatory Syndrome all evening at this week’s show. After a few weeks of high volume rock and roll, MCR got back to its transparent, rootsy basics. FSDK closed the show with their power and complete musical attack. But rolling up to that were a fantastic brother duo, an exciting young picking/singing Nashvillian and a family bluegrass band from Appalachia.

The young folks in Mountain Faith manage to come off as wholesome and hip at the same time, which is kind of a slick move. As singer/fiddler Summer McMahan said in our interview, gospel’s a big part of their mix but they are a mix, and they showed that in a five song set. The sunny, bouncy “Emily” opened and a hard driving blues on “Call Me The Breeze” closed, with a lot of vocal and instrumental skills in between. There were extended passages and ideas pulling mando, banjo, fiddle and guitar together with attention to detail and a big Celtic-inspired groove. Summer sang with spark and clarity. As gracious as they were about being at MCR, truly the honor was all ours.

As you could tell from my preview, I was pretty jazzed about my first chance to see Molly Tuttle and band in a live setting. She’s a paradox – forcefully talented yet shyly demure. She approaches the mic with a gentle demeanor and then she blows your mind with speedy flatpicked guitar. Opener “Friend And A Friend” rolled like a Greyhound, appropriate because it’s about the highs and lows of the road when you’ve got “a big dream and a worn out D-18.” That brisk bluegrass was offset by the cooing ballad “Save This Heart” with a lofty melody that found Molly showing a cultivated high register and Alison Krauss-like silvery sweetness. Her musical companions were emerging instrumental stars themselves – Wes Corbett on banjo and John Mailander on fiddle – plus bass mistress Missy Raines. They wove some killer solos together as one in “Swept Away” and John Hartford’s “Gentle On My Mind.” And the closing “White Freightliner” became a showcase for Molly’s most remarkable guitar solos in a generally remarkable set. If you were with us live, check the livestream archive of her performance and you’ll hear even more detail and punch in her guitar than was audible in Liberty Hall.

Breaking up the bluegrass was the self-described “beach and bayou” music of the Pawnshop Kings. The former comes from a life in California and immersion in everything from rock and roll to Laurel Canyon songwriting. The latter draws from the Mississippi River Delta and the swampy south. The guys fused these vibes artfully and soulfully, notably on the gospel stomping “Love Like Jesus.” Then “Outside Memphis” brought a country calm and spotlighted the guys’ leathery voices. They pulled together a fine band from guys they knew in Nashville, including their new friend Jason Goforth who gave the whole sound his usual golden glow with lap steel, harmonica and moody effects. The brothers gave off a lot of love too, proving the point that they may not remember what you say but they’ll remember how you make em feel.

Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen always make me feel good. Chill bump good. It really happened. I put it in my notes. If you’re in a band and have aspirations of chill bump induction (which you should), check out these guys’ ability to build tension and stack their songs with drama and dynamics. They came out with the blue mid-tempo groove of “No Life In This Town” and earned applause for every featured moment. Frank’s voice is in top shape, mining new territory in the fusion between bluegrass and soul. Mike Munford truly is one of the most intricate and exciting banjo players working today, as he showed on his instrumental “Yeah Man.” There, Chris Luquette took a gobsmacking solo that started close to the melody and then went nuts. Frank and Chris did some fun show-off picking to lead into the heavy wood of “She Said She Will,” and the boys wrapped the set with “Pretty Woman,” somehow making it a vessel for extended acoustic jams.

It had to be a bluegrass tune for the Nashville Jam, so the pickers picked “Salty Dog Blues” and pulled it off with watchmaker precision. Sometimes there’s nothing to say but “Son!” Which rhymes with fun – and pun.

Craig H.

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