Special Consensus — Scratch Gravel Road
The first quarter of 2012 has brought a wealth of enjoyable new albums that have filled our ears and emptied our wallets. Special Consensus’ vibrant new record, their sixteenth, might be the best of that bunch.
Over the course of its 37 years, Special Consensus has had its share of personnel changes, with several of the group’s former members now leading their own successful bluegrass bands: Special C alumni Josh Williams and Chris Jones return on Scratch Gravel Road, lending their voices to “Monroe,” an affectionate tribute to the father of bluegrass. Fiddler Stuart Duncan and banjo whiz/producer Alison Brown, the album’s other two guests, contribute to a couple of fantastic instrumentals; “Jacklene,” Brown and Special Consensus founding member Greg Cahill’s twin banjo romp, is two-and-a-half minutes of pure picking prowess.
Part of what makes Special Consensus such a dynamic band is that they’ve got three singers—Dustin Benson (the band’s newest member), Rick Faris, and David Thomas – who share lead vocal duties, which keeps the record feeling fresh. Benson and Faris trade vocals on a grassed up, toetapping cover of the Don Gibson hit “Sea of Heartbreak,” while Thomas takes a soulful turn on the count-your-blessings ballad “A Good Problem to Have,” which was written by the late Harley Allen (this is the first time the song has been recorded).
Though it’s too early to say which records will top IBMA ballots and the year-end “best of” lists, Scratch Gravel Road is a serious contender. With this album, Special Consensus has set the bar extremely high, not only for the rest of 2012’s bluegrass albums, but for their own future projects.
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