David Royko Psy.D
The Dillards & Special Consensus at Fitzgerald's
Concert review by David Royko, Chicago Tribune, November 5, 1996
Tuesday, November 5, 1996
Well, Golly; The Dillards Still Pickin' And Grinnin'
By David Duckman [David Royko]
Special to the Tribune
The first exposure many listeners had to bluegrass music in the 1960s and early '70s was through movies and television, and the three most famous examples are "The Ballad of Jed Clampett" (from "The Beverly Hillbillies"), "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" (from "Bonnie and Clyde") and "Dueling Banjos" (from "Deliverance").
Often overlooked are the performances the fictitious Darling Family, played by the Dillards, made on "The Andy Griffith Show," but it was clear that the crowd at the Dillards' Friday night show at Fitzgeralds remembered those episodes, judging by the laughter the group got as it struck a Darlings pose during the first set.
Though those television guest spots played to all of the worst hillbilly stereotypes to which bluegrass has often been linked, it was as clear three decades ago as it was this night that the Dillards are one dilly of a group.
As a quartet of characters, they maintain a perfect balance, with bassist Mitch Jayne serving as head funnyman, his comic banter ("Bob Dylan's singing sounds like a dog with his leg caught in barbed wire") and Missouri backwoods storytelling accounting for more than half the stage time.
But when banjo legend Doug Dillard and criminally underrated mandolinist Dean Webb tear into a number, laughs are replaced by awe. Dillard's banjo has retained its splashy, brittle tone, with the speediest passages sounding like a riled rattlesnake.
Webb's solos featured phrases that attacked from the middle of the beat, and his ability to toss chords into frantic improvisations is as thrilling today as it was in the days of Sheriff Andy Taylor and deputy Barney Fife.
Rodney Dillard's quavering yet potent tenor is among the most affecting sounds in bluegrass.
Chicago's Special Consensus opened with a satisfying set that displayed the group's revamped personnel. The sound has become a bit smoother and more contemporary, but with banjoist Greg Cahill still in charge, creativity speckled with grit remains the group's hallmark.