Special Consensus - Signs

Special Consensus - Signs

Pinecastle Records

Over the years, Greg Cahill has maintained an impressively high level of musicianship in his Chicago-based band, Special Consensus. The latest incarnation on “Signs” shows no signs of letdown. The current version of the band includes Cahill on banjo, Justin Carbone on guitar, Ashby Frank on mandolin, and David Thomas on bass. Complementing the core band on “Signs” are guests Randy Kohrs (resonator guitar) and Tim Crouch (fiddle), with Sonya Isaacs contributing harmony vocals on “Footprints.”

The band tackles the never-ending quest for fresh, new material by writing or cowriting half of the 12 songs on the recording and choosing the remaining tracks wisely from a variety of sources—including two (“Footprints” and “Talkin’ Bout It Just Don’t Get It Done”) penned by Ronnie Bowman and a couple of underdonebutdeserving covers (“Mountain Girl” and “I’ll Go To My Grave Loving You”).

Lead vocals are split pretty evenly between Carbone and Frank, both tasteful and appealing singers. No single track jumps out to my ears, though. In what seems to be a general feature of contemporary bluegrass music these days, there are a lot of medium tempo songs that, taken together, flatten the overall project. The exception, “Snowball Breakdown,” is a dandy uptempo instrumental with Cahill showing some fancy “tuning and a whole lot of pickin’.”

Instrumentally, the performances are masterful. Cahill is a superbly-talented banjo player—tasteful, clean, and imaginative. Carbone and Frank are wellknown in their own right as insiders (and sometimes hired guns) in the Nashville bluegrass scene, but Special Consensus is particularly enjoyable because of their commitment to being part of the band. That’s not to take away from the contributions of Kohrs and Crouch, but there’s an emphasis on ensemble sound and not just musical pyrotechnics that makes “Signs” particularly enjoyable. (Pinecastle Records, P.O. Box 753, Columbus, NC 28722, www.pinecastle.com.) AWIII