Roads & Rails

The Special Consensus
Shy Town Records

Bluegrass Unlimited, December 1995

Take The High Road To Texas/I’m A Little Bit Lonely/Is My Home Still Up There/Fat Boy Rag/Dream Of Me/The Walls Of Time/Where Dear Friends Will Never Part/One For The Road/Rose Of My Heart/Santa Fe Train/Take ‘Em And Break ‘Em Games/The Passing Of The Train

For twenty years, and through more than two dozen personnel changes, Banjoist Greg Cahill has been at the helm of Special Consensus, a considerable achievement for any bandleader. The fact that he has kept it afloat in the Chicago area, a region that for years has been a very tough market for bluegrass, is downright amazing.

All of which makes it a pleasure to report that this disc is a success in every respect. For starters, Cahill is in fine form. On "Is My Home Still Up There," his backup work is busy but purposeful, while his solo surprises with its unexpected placement of accents. His solo on "Walls Of Time" borders on the eccentric, with its bright and wide intervalic leaps contrasting effectively with the somber mood of this classic tune, like spears of lightning darting across a sky dark with thunderheads.

Martin Marrone’s rhythm guitar work is rock solid, his propulsive chording goosing the energy level on tunes like "Take The High Road To Texas" and the western swing instrumental, "Fat Boy Rag." He is also a fine singer with a clear, expressive voice, taking the lead on half of the vocal tunes.

Mandolinist Drew Carson uses the entire range of the instrument. His mix of chords and single notes runs, and his plumbing of the lower register (his first statement in the excellent Cahill instrumental, "One For The Road," for example) evokes none other than Bill Monroe himself.

Bassist Darren Wilcox also serves as the group’s other lead singer, his slightly lower voice complimenting Marrone’s tenor. Between these two, the Special Consensus vocals are as strong as they have ever been.

The program is 98% warhorse free (OK, maybe 92% to be exact), with only "Walls Of Time" having much of a bluegrass track record. The remaining songs are pulled from many sources, but they all are arranged with integrity and skill by Cahill and company. Highlights include Gail Davies’ "I’m A Little Bit Lonely," which has a rock/funk feel reminiscent of late ‘80s, Capitol Records-era New Grass Revival; Keith Little’s "Where Dear Friends Will Never Part," its great melody shining through due to Marrone’s impassioned lead vocal and the terrific harmonies; and the driving "The Passing Of The Train," where Cahill again is bounding all over the banjo.

Mark Schatz produced the disc, which was recorded in Nashville. According to several reports, many members of that city’s musical elite were continuously dropping by during the recording sessions to hear how things were going. Now everyone has a chance to hear why they were so interested. (Shy Town Records, 9701 S. 51st Ave., Oak Lawn, IL 60453)

In the Walnut Valley Festival list of artists: