Strong Enough to Bend

The Special Consensus

Banjo Newsletter, April 1997

Greg Cahill brings his super-charged banjo together with the newly re-formed Special Consensus to take us on an exciting musical journey. Playing together with confidence and familiarity that most bands take years to develop, the new Special Consensus covers everything from straight ahead bluegrass to country ballads and Texas swing.

Showing musical maturity that has grown from his many years playing, Greg has chosen to integrate his banjo into the band sound, putting the songs front and center. In Candy Mountain and How Was I Supposed To Know, he uses classic Scruggs back-up licks to good effect. His solos blend melodic and Scruggs styles effortlessly, particularly in the instrumental Money Creek. Greg’s contribution to the album.

For aspiring banjo players, listening to Greg navigate some of the less traditional tunes is an education in itself. Slow songs are always an issue for banjo players, largely because of the instrument’s lack of sustain. Yet in Ten Mile Tennessee, I Wonder and A Penny For Your Thoughts he finds an approach that fits naturally into the tunes. The Devil Ain’t Lazy is a Texas swing tune, another challenging musical situation for banjo players. Greg vamps jazzy chords and then takes a single string solo that Bob Wills would be proud of.

Special Consensus includes Diana Phillips on bass and vocals, Bobby Burns on guitar and vocals and Colby Maddox on mandolin and bass vocals. Special guest Aubrey Haynie on fiddle rounds out the musicians on the album, who all put in top-notch performances. Their tasteful musicianship with clean execution, and their smooth vocals, add to the distinctiveness of their sound. This line-up will no doubt carry on the legacy of Special Consensus proudly. (Note: For a heavier dose of Greg Cahill’s banjo playing, check out "Blue Skies," his album with mandolin wizard Don Stiernberg.)

Acoustic Musician, March 1997

Strong Enough To Bend…a fair statement! Retaining its continuity in the form of banjoman Greg Cahill, the band has otherwise reinvented itself since 1995. The wholesale changes in the personnel of Special Consensus essentially qualify this as a new band - though they certainly are not rookies. Lead singing is shared by guitarist Bobby Burns and stand up bassist Diana Phillips. His is a pleasant mellow voice; hers is clear, grown up and confident.

I quite enjoyed Phillip’s interpretation of Kathy Kallick’s Call Me A Taxi and Nanci Griffith’s Outbound Plane. The instrumental side of the band is sound and there are some fine solos from mandolinist Colby Maddox as well as from Cahill and Burns.

Kudos to producer Mark Schatz for a well balanced project, and Aubrey Haynie for his fine fiddling.

Vol. 41 #4 - Sing Out!

In its more than 20 years as a performing unit, the sole constant in Chicago-area bluegrass band Special consensus’ sound has been the unmistakable blend of traditional and melodic styles of banjo player-bandleader Greg Cahill. The group’s latest recording marks its debut on Pinecastle, and the emergence of yet another new lineup, featuring mandolin player Colby Maddox, guitarist Bobby Burns and bassist Diana Phillips, the group’s first female member. Burns and Phillips previously worked as a duo in the Austin area, and bring Western swing and folk influences into the group’s arsenal of styles, along with a smooth, distinctively Southern vocal sound. In Maddox and (on four cuts) guest fiddle wunderkind Aubrey Haynie, Cahill has found compatible instrumentalists capable of matching his own inventiveness and drive, demonstrated most dramatically on his traditional-sounding "Money Creek" and Maddox’s David Grisman-influenced "Third Coast Breakdown."

Strong Enough To Bend features a wide variety of covers from sources as diverse as Nanci Griffith ("Outbound Plane"), Asleep at the Wheel ("I Wonder"), the O’Kanes ("Gonna Walk That Line"), Bob Wills’ Texas Playboys ("The Devil Ain’t Lazy") and Kathy Kallick ("Call Me A Taxi"). The new group’s strong gospel quartet sound is showcased on "I Want My Friends To Pray For Me," which Phillips dug out of an old hymnal. The inspirational title song is a contemporary devotional piece that exemplifies the new lineup’s instrumental and vocal strengths.

Produced in Nashville by bass player Mark Schatz, this is among the strongest recordings Special Consensus has released to date.

Blugrass Now, May 1997

Candy Mountain; Gonna Walk That Line; I Wonder; Outbound Plane; Money Creek; Ten Mile Tennessee; The Devil Ain’t Lazy; Strong Enough To Bend; Call Me A Taxi; How Was I Supposed To Know?; Third Coast Breakdown; A Penny For Your Thoughts; Listening To The Rain; I Want My Friends To Pray For Me

This is Special Consensus’ first release since changing its entire personnel line-up, save for the band’s co-founder, banjoist Greg Cahill. As he has done before, Greg recruited an assemblage of outstanding musicians that produce a somewhat more traditional sound than recent configurations of the group - "traditional" in that there are numerous hard-driving pieces complete with blistering banjo intros and punchy mandolin chops and fills ("Candy Mountain," "Money Creek," "Listening To The Rain") and tunes with heartfelt messages such as the title cut and "A Penny For Your Thoughts." While the sound may be somewhat traditional, the selections are primarily contemporary songs, many of which were drawn from other genres of music, such as the jazzy "I Wonder" and the folksy Nancy Griffith-penned "Outbound Plane."

As with any personnel change, creating a new band sound involves a meshing of the talents each member brings to the group. Guitarist Bobby Burns and bassist Diana Phillips were in Still Waters, an Austin, Texas-based band at the time they were asked to join Special Consensus. Both Bobby and Diana contribute lead vocals. Bobby’s voice is relaxed and well-suited for the beautifully reminiscent "Ten Mile Tennessee." Diana’s voice is distinct - no unnecessary comparisons to Alison or Emmylou are needed. It’s a voice all her own and a beautiful one at that. Diana and Bobby’s harmonies have an excellent blend, the result of years of singing together.

Colby Maddox weaves his mandolin in, out and around Chill’s banjo, occasionally harmonizing with the 5-string - most notably on Colby’s own instrumental, "Third Coast Breakdown."

Strong Enough To Bend achieves that rare mix of delivering contemporary tunes written by many of today’s best songsmiths in a setting that sounds traditional. In fact, that is the tradition of Special Consensus - playing bluegrass-based music that invites listeners of other types of music to say, "I like that!" Indeed, you will like this effort by Special Consensus.

In the Walnut Valley Festival list of artists: