“Long I Ride” by Special Consensus

Special Consensus
Long I Ride
Compass Records

4½ stars (out of 5)

By Donald Teplyske

For more than forty years, Greg Cahill has been making bluegrass music as leader of the Special Consensus. Never in that time, as far as I’m aware, has he experienced the type of success as seen in the past few years since signing on with Compass Records and Alison Brown, who also produces this record.

Much like Doyle Lawson, but on a significantly smaller scale, the Special Consensus has been a school of bluegrass with a weighty list of musicians and singers being alumni of the group: Dennis White, Robbie Fulks, Dallas Wayne, Josh Williams, Tim Dishman, Andrea Roberts, Justin Carbone, and Ryan Roberts—to list but a few. The group has been nominated for a Grammy, and has been awarded three International Bluegrass Music Association Awards, including this past October when “Fireball” from Long I Ride was recognized as Instrumental Recorded Performance of the Year.

For Long I Ride, Cahill, one of bluegrass music’s most consistent banjo players, is again joined by mainstay Rick Faris (guitar, 2010) and Dan Eubanks (bass, 2013) while Nick Dumas has come on board playing mandolin.

“Fireball,” a Flatt & Scruggs tune, is given an appropriately lively presentation with Cahill and Brown and Faris and Dumas playing dueling banjos and mandolins, respectfully, leaving the guitar parts to Trey Hensley and Dobroist Rob Ickes. With seven musicians, the performers could overwhelm the melody, but these are capable hands: no fear—one can clearly hear individual guitar, mandolin, and banjo notes being cleanly picked.

Another very familiar song is “Highway 40 Blues,” Larry Cordle’s breakthrough number taken to #1 by Ricky Skaggs in 1983. Here the members of Della Mae join Special C with Celia Woodsmith singing the lead with Faris. This pairing is effective, and with plenty of fiddle and mandolin, the rendition appeals. “Where The Wild River Rolls,” a Bob Amos song established by Hot Rize and also recently recorded by Audie Blaylock, is also included.

Cahill always gets perfect tone from his banjo, and this is demonstrated ably on “New Shenandoah,” a Craig Market/Tim Stafford song. The album is full of stellar bluegrass performances, with Robbie Fulks’ recent “Long I Ride” kicking off the album with the dichotomous qualities of aggression and pensiveness.

“Life Stories” is a ‘yesterday’s wisdom’ type of song that is a band co-write (Cahill, Eubanks, Faris) with former member Ryan Roberts; the song avoids sepia-toned syrup by communicating reality with genuine emotion and images to which all can relate. The vocal quartet of “Jesus Is My Rock” is suitably impressive, and by the time they close things out with “Time For Movin’ On,” written by former members of the group Justin Carbone and Ron Spears, one is left clamouring for just one more song.

Most assuredly I am a fan of the Special Consensus. I’ve got all but two of their recordings (Hey Y’all and Road & Rails elude me) and have booked the band for performances. They are a stellar bluegrass group, one of the finest in the business. Long I Ride is further evidence of this true life fact.