Special Consensus has a long and storied history in bluegrass music. The Chicago-based outfit, headed by founding banjoist Greg Cahill, has been recording and touring worldwide for 41 years.
We spoke recently with Greg about the band, and their new album, Long I Ride, due in June.
When I caught up with him, Cahill had just returned home from a trip to Germany to teach at a banjo camp, and was having a look at copies of the new CD when I called. They had arrived while he was in Europe, and he seemed pleased.
I congratulated him on 41 years, and he joked that they had considered making up some anniversary t-shirts listing the names of all the former members of the group, but with 46 current and former bandmates, he would have to go with nightshirts instead!
“Alison Brown suggested that we think about that as a concept, focusing on 40 years moving into 41. Throughout we tried to weave a thread of friends and fellow musicians over 40 years. The title song, Long I Ride, was written by an alum, Robbie Fulks, who has become a sensation in the alt-country world. I’ve done a few shows with him recently, just the two of us, and on one of them he did this one. I liked it right away – it feels like a bunch of guys shooting the breeze, and it seemed perfect for us, each member singing one verse, like a different scene in a play.”
Cahill wrote one with Fulks for the new record, Life Stories, sitting in a hotel room with Ryan Roberts and the rest of the band. Former guitarist Justin Carbone contributed Time For Moving On, and one-time mandolinist Ashby Frank suggested one that made the cut, First One To Know by Texas artist Stoney LaRue which Greg says makes a great grass number.
“We also redid Highway 40 Blues at Garry West’s suggestion with Della Mae and Special C together. Courtney and Celia from the Dellas sing it with with Rick Farris. Joe Newberry and I are really good buds, and he wrote this song called Baby I’m Blue – so well written. I heard it as western swing and brought in Buddy Spicier and Matt Combs for twin fiddle.
Tim Stafford and Craig Market wrote one that came in just in time. We were down to the wire, last day in the studio. Tim’s band was in the studio too, and we asked him for a song. He sent one that he had Craig had written together called, New Shenandoah, which was a perfect fit.”
One that really stands out on the album is an instrumental arrangement of a classic Josh Graves tune.
“Alison had this idea a long time ago to do a banjo version on Fireball, but with twin banjos using the Keith tuners in an unlikely place. Rob Ickes and Trey Hensley came in for this one, and we had twin mandolins as well. I had to install a 3rd Keith tuner on the 1st string. It’s really fast and really fun. Listen for some twin, three handed banjo on the ending.”
Long I Ride releases June 10. MP3 download purchases are available now from Compass Records.