CD Review: 35 by Special Consensus

I love this album, which celebrates Special Consensus’ thirty-five years through multiple personnel incarnations. The first six cuts feature the current lineup of Greg Cahill, banjo; Ryan Roberts, guitar; David Thomas, bass; Rick Faris, mandolin.  Those of you lucky enough to have attended the group’s performance at Sugar & Spice Café a few weeks ago will recognize the tunes, from “Dusk ‘Til Dawn” (which has been getting significant airplay on XM Radio lately) to the haunting a capella hymn, “Land Up In The Air.”

The second half of the disc comprises six selections featuring five different sets of musicians, on releases ranging from 1983 to 1998.  As a group leader, Cahill is extremely generous with lead vocals, in fact, just about the only one who doesn’t have a vocal on this disc is Greg himself!  The quality and varied styles of the singers over the years has been consistently impressive.  My particular favorite is Dallas Wayne on “Fourteen Carat Mind,” from their 1991 album Hey, Y’all—a rich, full sound, reminiscent of Ernest Tubbs, and just made for Country.

“Fourteen Carat Mind”

The musicianship is outstanding throughout.  I was particularly impressed with Greg Cahill’s versatility, ranging from a lively Celtic jig on “Danny’s Dance,” which was a highlight of the Sugar & Spice evening, to the blazingly fast arpeggios and chromatic runs of “Country Boy” from the 1983 album, Blue Northerns, the final cut on this disc. The incredibly tight interplay between Cahill’s banjo and Paul Kramer’s violin is jaw-droppingly good!

One thing that stands out in this hybrid “new release,” greatest hits disc is the consistently high quality and variety of the music over the years, along with Cahill’s judgment in the selection of fellow musicians.

Compass Records

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