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John Reischman & the Jaybirds

On That Other Green Shore – 2017 (Corvus)

Reviewed by Fred Smith

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CDs by John Reischman & the Jaybirds

John Reischman has been a leading bluegrass mandolinist for decades. He spends most of his time in the Pacific Northwest these days and continues to make sweet bluegrass music with his band, The Jaybirds. "On That Other Green Shore" has just the right mix of selections covering the traditional bluegrass oeuvre: some gospel numbers, rousing instrumentals, and pitch-perfect bluegrass ballads. It's a collection to enjoy, both for the selection of material and the fine craftsmanship of the playing.

Reischman's bona fides stack up against any existing mandolinist: he was an original member of the Tony Rice Unit in the 1970s and wrote one of the most beautiful and recognizable mandolin tunes of the last two generations ("Saltspring"). His crisp picking technique had never been more fluid, nor expressive.

The Jaybirds, as a collective, blend seamlessly with their traditional bluegrass instrumentation. Trisha Gagnon (bass), Jim Nunally (guitar), Nick Hornbuckle (banjo) and fiddler Greg Spatz effortlessly trade lines and verses with Reischman.

The title comes from a lyric in one of the gospel numbers, the traditional "Don't You Hear The Lambs A-Crying." Bluegrass gospel can be tricky, straying in less subtle hands, too treacly or maudlin. Not so with the Jaybirds.

True to form, Reischman, contributes a couple of solid instrumentals ("Red Diamond" and "Daylighting The Creek"). Reischman has a knack for writing tunes that evoke high mountain days and endless possibilities.

Gagnon does a nice vocal turn on "Lambs," and Nunally contributes "Home Is Where I Want To Be" and. Reischman ably produced this collection, along with Hornbuckle in British Columbia. The group nicely displays their easy cohesiveness with Lennon and McCarty's "Two Of Us" with Gagnon again singing lead. Spatz' wife, Carldwen Irvine Spatz wrote the haunting "Thistletown" on which he draws feeling (literally and figuratively) from his bow.

There are a few traditional numbers, reworked by The Jaybirds in their own voice. Each improves and updates the original. This is straight ahead bluegrass for today, and John Reischman and The Jaybirds are its highly accomplished interpreters.