On the heels of their Grammy-nominated, IBMA Album of the Year winner Rivers and Roads, Special Consensus celebrates their 45th anniversary with the release of Chicago Barn Dance. The new project is a love note of sorts to Chicago, hometown of the band’s founder and banjo player Greg Cahill.
The album’s title track, written for the project by Becky Buller, Missy Raines and the album’s producer Alison Brown, tells the story of WLS Barn Dance and features the exquisite twin fiddling of Grammy winning fiddle legend Michael Cleveland alongside Becky Buller. Robbie Fulks, a former band member and Americana icon, wrote “East Chicago Blues” especially for the project and contributes an impassioned lead vocal performance. Written from the first person perspective of bluegrass creator Bill Monroe, the song tells Monroe’s personal journey of trading a farmer’s life in Kentucky for the oil refineries in Chicago. “My Kind of Town” is a creative reimagining of the Sinatra classic into a bluegrass instrumental featuring the twin banjos of Greg Cahill and Alison Brown alongside the twin fiddles of Mike Barnett and Patrick McAvinue. Guitarist and lead vocalist Rick Faris shines on “Lake Shore Drive”, a grassy cover of the 70s pop hit from beloved Chicago band Aliotta Haynes Jeremiah as well as on “The City of New Orleans” where Faris, along with bandmates Nate Burie (mandolin) and Dan Eubanks (bass) provide lead vocals. Other stand out tracks include “Looking out my Back Door”, featuring a wonderful Dobro performance from Compass label mate Rob Ickes.
Chicago Barn Dance not only establishes Special Consensus as one of Chicago’s most prized music treasures but also draws the connection between the Chicago and the evolution of early country and bluegrass music. Artists that regularly appeared on Chicago’s WLS National Barn Dance from the 1920s through the 1940s, including Hank Williams, Bill and Charlie Monroe, Pasty Montana and Lulu Belle and Scotty, provided a sense of connection and comfort to the many Southerners who migrated from the Appalachian states in search of work, including the father of bluegrass music Bill Monroe. And 45 years into their journey, Special Consensus continues to epitomize nexus between the Windy City and bluegrass music.