Chicago’s very own veteran bluegrass band
“Yes, Special Consensus may be Chicago’s very own veteran bluegrass band, but talent like this is the property of the world.”
— David Royko; Chicago Tribune
Special Consensus exceeded our expectations
“Special Consensus exceeded our expectations as artists-in-residence. Your Traditional American Music program for the schools was well conceived and masterfully performed. Your community outreach mini-concerts were great fun and resulted in promoting ticket sales to the capstone concert. You earned the well-deserved standing ovation you received during the capstone concert.”
— Rochester Civic Music; Rochester, MN
The show was terrific!
“Well, The Special Consensus played the Lake Dillon Amphitheatre last night, and the show was terrific! We had approximately 900 people on hand and everyone had a great time.”
— Town of Dillon Special Events; Dillon, CO
Scratch Gravel Road Bluegrass Unlimited Review
We are extremely pleased that Bluegrass Unlimited gave Scratch Gravel Road a Highlight Review in the July 2012 issue. Some of the comments:
“…one rewarding listening experience…the band plays and sings with precision and acuity…the vocal prowess of this band is highly remarkable…The blend of material, new and old, is top shelf…This project is marked by a consistent excellence beginning to end. To miss it is to miss one of the best, if not the best release of the year.”
See the complete review: http://bluegrassmusic.com/content/category/releases/
Scratch Gravel Road review
Scratch Gravel Road received an excellent review in the July 2, 2012 issue of the Precsription Bluegrass newsletter (firstname.lastname@example.org). The review states:
“Scratch Gravel Road” is a fine recording marking the sixteenth release for the band…
The three newest members are all fine singers giving this version of Special C enough vocal firepower to paint a variety of sonic scenes. “Scratch Gravel Road” may at times sound more like a project than a veteran band recording its umpteenth album…
The shrink-wrap hasn’t even settled in the trash can yet and we have already been treated to three different and distinct lead vocalists and three different styles of song. Each cut, however, manages to land squarely in the middle of bluegrass territory…
Before this album is over we also get to hear a four part harmony a cappella performance and two instrumental pieces. Twelve songs in all including two originals provide a nice mix that shows what this latest edition of Special Consensus is capable of…
All in all, “Scratch Gravel Road” is a great listen. It is positive, clean, well recorded, and well executed bluegrass music. The band impresses both vocally and instrumentally…”
The review was later posted on the No Depression blog site (http://www.nodepression.com/profiles/blogs/cd-review-scratch-gravel-road-by-special-consensus).
Scratch Gravel Road review
Featured Artists of the Week 05-15-12
Thirty-seven years into a career Special Consensus release, ‘Scratch Gravel Road’, the band’s seventeenth album effort. Headed by bandleader, Greg Cahill, the group has a talent and much deserved street cred for finding and developing talent. IBMA winners, and former Special Consensus alumni, Chris Jones and Josh Williams, come back to join in with the four current band members on ‘Scratch and Gravel’s’ tribute to the father of bluegrass, “Monroe”. There is a spark that flies off of the songs on ‘Scratch Gravel Road’ that is not often found in the work of seasoned bands. Special Consensus keep freshness locked in with tight playing and form fitting harmonies. Album opener, “Old New Straitsville Moonshine Run”, is a roller coaster ride that follows souped-up shine runners and sets the album off like a starter pistol crack. Tenderness (“A Good Problem To Have”) and toe-tapping (“Mollie And Julie’s Reel”) are available in equal measure.
Scratch Gravel Road review
Juli Thanki | April 12th, 2012 Engine 145
The first quarter of 2012 has brought a wealth of enjoyable new albums that have filled our ears and emptied our wallets. Special Consensus’ vibrant new record, their sixteenth, might be the best of that bunch.
Over the course of its 37 years, Special Consensus has had its share of personnel changes, with several of the group’s former members now leading their own successful bluegrass bands: Special C alumni Josh Williams and Chris Jones return on Scratch Gravel Road, lending their voices to “Monroe,” an affectionate tribute to the father of bluegrass. Fiddler Stuart Duncan and banjo whiz/producer Alison Brown, the album’s other two guests, contribute to a couple of fantastic instrumentals; “Jacklene,” Brown and Special Consensus founding member Greg Cahill’s twin banjo romp, is two-and-a-half minutes of pure picking prowess.
Part of what makes Special Consensus such a dynamic band is that they’ve got three singers—Dustin Benson (the band’s newest member), Rick Faris, and David Thomas – who share lead vocal duties, which keeps the record feeling fresh. Benson and Faris trade vocals on a grassed up, toe tapping cover of the Don Gibson hit “Sea of Heartbreak,” while Thomas takes a soulful turn on the count-your-blessings ballad “A Good Problem to Have,” which was written by the late Harley Allen (this is the first time the song has been recorded).
Though it’s too early to say which records will top IBMA ballots and the year-end “best of” lists, Scratch Gravel Road is a serious contender. With this album, Special Consensus has set the bar extremely high, not only for the rest of 2012’s bluegrass albums, but for their own future projects.
Juli Thanki is the editor of Engine 145 and a freelance writer whose work has appeared in the Washington Post, Bluegrass Unlimited, and M Music & Musicians Magazine. In 2011 she received the International Bluegrass Music Association Print Media Person of the Year award.
Scratch Gravel Road review
Donald Teplyske wrote a great review of Scratch Gravel Road for the Country Standard Time blog and gave us another pat on the back for reaching #5 on the Bluegrass Today blog chart. To read the March 29 review, go to http://www.countrystandardtime.com/blog/FervorCouleeBluegrass/entry.asp?xid=874, click on CD reviews, type in Special Consensus in the box below the listings and click on “GO.”
Here is what he said on April 21:
You may recall a few weeks ago I posted here a review of Special Consensus’ new album “Scratch Gravel Road.” I made mention of Monroe, one of the strongest songs of tribute recorded in honor of the Father of Bluegrass.
I was pleased last week to see the Special C debut on the Bluegrass Today chart at #18, and was even more excited to see the song move up to #5 on the chart for April 20…
Congratulations to Greg Cahill and the Special C for hitting the top 5; I predict a number one in their future real soon.
Written by Neal Loevinger
Tuesday, 07 July 2009 13:16
Many years ago, this reviewer hosted a weekly bluegrass radio show on WHPK, at the University of Chicago. Through the radio show and the U of C Folk Festival, I had the chance to meet local and national bluegrass acts, and even had the privilege of interviewing the bandleader of Chicago’s premier bluegrass band, the Special Consensus, for the WHPK magazine. That was probably 1987 or 88; fast forward 21 years, and the Special Consensus is still making compelling, interesting and sophisticated bluegrass music. However, after seeing the Special C probably 8 or 10 times (and with different band members each performance, it seemed) in the years since college, I’ve come to think of the Special Consensus not as a band so much as a concept, a vehicle for banjoist Greg Cahill’s urban bluegrass style, which encompasses the influences of Chicago blues, swing, newgrass, and commercial country music, and which is always tight, clean, and smooth.
Yet let’s be clear: the center of the Special Consensus is Greg Cahill’s banjo- his rhythm really grounds every song without overpowering it. Mr. Cahill, who as I remember was just about the nicest guy a young bluegrass fan could meet, is now the President of the IBMA, which seems appropriate given his long career and ability to bring such diverse bluegrass styles together in his band. (Also, as President of Bluegrass, he’s able to pardon your bluegrass crimes, as his predecessor Tim O’Brien used to quip.) Listening to Signs, the latest CD from the Special C, I’m also struck by the thoughtfulness of the arrangements; it seems like every song on this CD is structured
differently, with hardly a reversion to the mean of verse-chorus-break that one finds on less interesting recordings.
Justin Carbone (guitar and lead vocals) and Ashby Frank (mandolin and lead vocals) are really top-notch pickers, who pull beautiful and bell-like tones out of their instruments; both of them do justice to the Special C tradition and indeed add to it with multiple songwriting credits. Highlights for me on this CD included “Too Late Now,” a bluesy song which could probably be rearranged for a country “hat act” but sounds great with guest dobroist Randy Kohrs. “Lonesome Lesson Learned” is fired-up bluegrass, but the quality of the arrangement adds a dramatic quality – great sweeps of guitar stand out in the middle of the song following an unbelievably fast and clean mandolin break.
The song after that, “Footprints,” slows things down considerably; it’s a gentle gospel song, but more folky than fire-and-brimstone. “Snowball Breakdown” is one of those great banjo numbers that somehow loses something when the other instruments take the lead; it’s probably because Cahill’s use of “Scruggs tuners” works so well that
even hot mandolin or guitar doesn’t sound as distinctive.
“I’ll Go to My Grave Lovin’ You” is a Statler Brothers tune from the 70′s; this is more or less just an acoustic version of their earlier “Nashville sound” arrangement (you can find it on Youtube if you don’t believe me.) But never mind Nashville – it wouldn’t be a Special Consensus album if there weren’t a swing tune and, indeed, “Talkin’ Bout It Just Don’t Get It Done” makes it seems like bluegrass is a native Chicago art form. While there were a few other songs on the album that were merely good, I thought “My Heart Breaks Again” was outstanding; it’s the best of the new bluegrass, a true-life song that nevertheless has more than three chords in it.
To sum up: if you’ve liked what Special Consensus has been doing since 1975, you’ll like what they’re doing in 2009. If you need your bluegrass rough around the edges, with ancient and craggy tones, this might not be your cup of tea, but then again, this is music made by the President of Bluegrass, so I say:
Hail to the chief!