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Special Consensus

Trail of Aching Hearts – 2007 (Pinecastle)

Reviewed by Dave Bagdade

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Chicago's Special Consensus has been making high-quality bluegrass recordings for more than 30 years. Banjoist Greg Cahill has led the Special C for their entire history, and in a relatively rare turn of events, the lineup for this record - their 13th overall and 6th for Pinecastle - is mostly the same as 2005's outstanding "Everything's Alright." Ron Spears plays mandolin, Justin Carbone handles the guitar, and the bass duties are divided between former member Tres Nugent and current bassist David Thomas, with Tim Dishman, another alum, sitting in on one tune. The lead vocals are shared between Spears and Carbone, with Thomas taking a turn as well.

The band follows the formula used for the last several albums: band originals mixed with well-chosen covers, along with an original instrumental ("Burns Breakdown"), a Celtic tune ("Josie's Reel"), a swing tune (Irving Berlin's "Blue Skies") and a gospel number (Spears' "Lift Your Voice in Prayer"). The harmonies are excellent throughout, but they particularly shine on "Rich Man's Coal" and the title track. The picking is also terrific, especially on "Burns Breakdown" and "Blue Skies." Cahill has always been an inventive and exciting banjoist, and Carbone and Spears are also great players.

The last two Special C albums, "Route 10" and "Everything's Alright," were the best the band has recorded. This is every bit as good, and it is a must-listen for any fans of contemporary bluegrass. Highly recommended.