Compass Records

The press material accompanying the latest CD from Special Consensus proclaims that the band has “never sounded better” in its 40-year career. After a good listen, it’s awfully hard to argue with that bold assertion. Rivers And Roads, produced and arranged by Alison Brown, is top-notch from start to finish.

The CD opens full-throttle with a supercharged rendition of the late great John Hartford’s “Way Down The River Road.” (There’s another imaginative tip-of-the-hat to Hartford on the band’s rendition of the traditional fiddle tune “Squirrel Hunters,” which opens with a vocal intro and fiddle passage from Hartford’s earlier version of the tune.) One of more than a few show-stoppers here is the rollicking and soaring “She Took The Tennessee River,” co-written by Becky Buller and Jon Weisberger and featuring guest lead and harmony vocals from Bobby Osborne. It’s a tongue-in-cheek heartbreak song driven by cascading lyrics and dazzling vocal arrangements.

The stark, almost macabre, traditional gospel ode “Travelin’ Shoes” also packs a heck of a punch with its thrilling a cappella arrangement and its chilling portrayal of death as a stranger who comes knocking on your door without warning. It’s apt to send chills down your spine. (Compass Records, 916 19th Ave. S., Nashville, TN 37212, www.compassrecords.com.)BA

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