Special Consensus has been around for a long time — a quarter of a century or so — and some fine musicians have logged time with the band, including Robbie Fulks and Chris Jones. Usually a band with that kind of combined longevity and turnover is fronted by a lead singer who’s in a position to impose a hefty degree of consistency in the sound, but here the anchor role has been played by banjo player and harmony singer Greg Cahill, meaning that there’s been more latitude for new arrivals to shape the music.
Lead vocals on Our Little Town are shared by newcomers Chris Walz (guitar) and Andrea Roberts (bass), and their tastes and talents run in a slightly more traditional vein than has been the case in the past. With veteran mandolinist Colby Maddox rounding out the quartet, and fiddler Stuart Duncan on board for the recording, Special Consensus has put together a fine collection of several new songs and a bunch that deserve a wider hearing than they’ve gotten to date.
In the former category are a pair from Indiana phenom Ron Stewart (currently playing banjo and fiddle with Lynn Morris), a solidly trad-sounding out-of-prison tale from Walz, and a brief but fine gospel quartet from Roberts’ husband, done a cappella. Among the latter are James Alan Shelton’s “Blue In The Blue Ridge”, Randy Graham’s brilliant “Journey To My Savior’s Side”, a beautiful Patty Loveless ballad titled “Nothin’ But The Wheel” (written by John Scott Sherrill of “Wild And Blue” fame), and the western-swingy “Silver Dew On The Bluegrass Tonight”, as well as Greg Brown’s title track, a lament for the grim fate of small towns in an increasingly urbanized society.
That’s a pretty broad range of material, but it’s pulled together by the flexibility and commitment of the musicians. Roberts, in particular, stands out with a well-developed ability to bring just the right touches to both her lead and harmony vocals, combining nicely with Cahill’s low-key leadership and sensitive banjo picking. Maddox and Walz are no slouches, either, and the result is one of Special Consensus’ strongest offerings yet.