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Special Consensus

Scratch Gravel Road – 2012 (Compass)

Reviewed by John Lupton

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Nearly four decades after forming Chicago-based Special Consensus in 1975, banjo player Greg Cahill and his outfit continue to build on a reputation for solid, dependable traditional bluegrass through a catalog of 16 recordings. A lot of superb musicians have passed through the band over the years - Cahill is the sole remaining original member - and two of them (Chris Jones and Josh Williams) return for guest appearances on "Scratch Gravel Road."

Compass chief Alison Brown (who also produced) and fiddler par excellence Stuart Duncan sit in as well, but mostly it's just Cahill and his current lineup (Rick Faris, mandolin; Dustin Benson, guitar; David Thomas, bass) doing what they do best. Cahill pretty much sticks to the banjo, but the other three are all quality lead vocalists, and their harmonies are among the best the band in the band's long history.

The material covers a lot of moods and themes, from the bluesy Shoulda Took A Train to ballads like My Memories of You and even a gospel quartet, On My Way to the Kingdom Land. Cahill has shown a knack over the years for taking country and pop classics and giving them a bluegrass twist, and he does so again here with Don Gibson's country hit of a half-century ago, Sea of Heartbreak.

The faces may change from album to album, but Special Consensus is pretty much always money in the bank.