Since Greg Cahill co-founded Special Consensus with Marc Edelstein in 1975, the band has covered a lot of ground in their forty eight years of music making. With twenty one albums to their credit, several of Special C’s more recent releases have been centered around different themes. This is certainly the case with their latest effort, Great Blue North, which pays homage to the Canadian music community.
The opening track, Snowbird, was written by Gene McLellan and comes from the repertoire of Anne Murray. This song demonstrates the vocal abilities of the two newest Special C members Greg Blake and Michael Prewitt. Claire Lynch, who now makes her home in Toronto, also contributes harmony vocals to this track.
Fred Eaglesmith songs have been covered by various bluegrass artists over the years. Considering the concept of this album, it’s no surprise that Special Consensus chose to include one on this recording. Don’t You Try To Change My Mind shows off the more traditional side of the band, and also displays the instrumental talents of this current configuration which consists of Greg Cahill on banjo, Dan Eubanks on bass, Greg Blake on guitar, and Michael Prewitt on mandolin.
Fittingly, two Gordon Lightfoot songs are included on this project. Alberta Bound features several guest musicians and vocalists such as fiddler Ray Legere, Patrick Sauber, Trisha Gagnon, John Reischman, Pharis and Jason Romero, and Claire Lynch. The other Lightfoot piece, Brave Mountaineers, features solely Special C and has excellent lead vocals and guitar playing from Blake.
Mighty Trucks of Midnight was originally recorded by folk rock artist Bruce Cockburn in 1991. Here it’s sung by Dan Eubanks and played with a great amount of grit and attitude. Leonard Podolak based in Winnipeg plays clawhammer banjo on this track, adding a neat layer alongside Cahill’s three finger style of banjo playing.
Pretty Kate and the Rabbit is a medley of two Canadian fiddle tunes, La Belle Catherine and Jack Rabbit Jump. On this track the group is joined by April Verch and Darol Anger on twin fiddles. Alison Brown also plays twin banjo with Cahill, a customary addition on Special C recordings since their 2012 release, Scratch Gravel Road.
Blackbird was written by J.P. Cormier, a guitar player and songwriter based in Cape Breton. Alongside Greg Blake’s rich baritone voice are Dale Ann Bradley and Amanda Smith providing smooth harmony vocals. The group is also joined by Rob Ickes on dobro, who can also be heard on the earlier track Highway 95.
The Jaybird Song was penned by Trisha Gagnon. This track starts with a really smooth rhythmic groove which then shifts to a fast barn-burning tempo making for a really fun listen. This song is also a wonderful display of Michael Prewitt’s hard hitting mandolin style. It’s truly one of the highlights of this entire project.
Great Blue North is another wonderful effort from one of bluegrass music’s greatest institutions. Special Consensus has not only honored the music created by Canadian artists, but they’ve done so in a way that only they can. This is a welcome addition to the Special C discography, and hopefully your own music library.