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The Story Behind...John Reischman & The Jaybirds

Donald Teplyske  |  June 15, 2013

Including a brief examination of John Reischman's new album, "Walk Along John."

There is a lot of music out there, and with the amount I purchase, and to a (much) lesser extent receive via promo issue from publicists, labels, and artists, it does tend to pile up around the home office. That I have several places about the house where discs get squirreled away out of sight, often a release I really enjoy can remain misplaced until a random drawer is opened, or a pile is pushed over by a bluegrass ghost.

I'm not proud of it- I just wish I had more shelves.

Still, this afternoon when I went looking for John Reischman's recent "Walk Along John," I expected to find it mixed amongst a pile of Rainmakers and Kimberley Rew albums I have been consuming of late. Of course, I don't mean filed alphabetically because Reischman belongs nowhere near those artists as he is filed (or, will be someday) within the separate bluegrass stacks.

But, he wasn't there where I thought he should be. No, fifteen minute of searching finally led me to "Walk Along John" mixed in with the albums I was considering for the Polaris Music Prize, a juried award presented annually to the Canadian artist and album which best meets the criteria of selected music journalists, broadcasters, and bloggers as of the highest artistic integrity, without regard to musical genre or sales.

Since most of the other jury members are fools (I jest, they aren't fools, just misguided indie-poppers...again, I joke. They are just misguided) I imagine I may have been the only one to cast a ballot in favour of Reischman's most recent masterpiece. And I don't use that word lightly. "Walk Along John" is near aural perfection.

It is an acoutiblue album that sounds unlike anything else released this year and yet should still appeal to those who appreciate mainstream bluegrass, or would if they ever had a chance to hear it. Since my most recent Sirius subscription has lapsed, I haven't listened to Bluegrass Junction lately, but I can't imagine they've added this wonderful album to rotation; after several years of listening, I've never heard Reischman or his Jaybirds on the channel, not even played by almost-Canadian Chris Jones, a man who should be able to throw some love Reischman's way.

UPDATE This just in- it is reported to me that "Walk Along John" is in rotation on Bluegrass Junction, so colour me incorrect. I am pleasantly surprised, and hope- similar to the increased exposure Dale Ann Bradley started to receive about seven years ago- that this signals a change on the bluegrass landscape and the treatment Reischman and his music will receive in the future.

That John Reischman, despite more than thirty years as a recognized force on bluegrass mandolin (with the Tony Rice Unit and The Good Ol' Persons, as a performer on Todd Phillips' Grammy Award winning Monroe- tribue "True Life Blues," and as a purveyor of Monroe-influenced mandolin innovation: see Joe Ahr's Dream for evidence) should still be relatively unknown to the mainstream bluegrass population is unfortunate. Few bluegrass artists, whether as part of a band or as an instrumentalist, can rival what Reischman has accomplished all the while remaining off the stages of the major bluegrass festivals.

The Jaybirds, his main vehicle for a dozen years, have released five incredibly diverse and consistent albums, each further defining their shared vision of a modern bluegrass repertoire. Within that band, Jim Nunally and Trisha Gagnon have established what is perhaps the sweetest of male-female bluegrass duet structures, augmented by Reischman's own underrated vocal contributions. They have created a body of original work that I feel stands along that of any major bluegrass outfit and have brought back to the fore almost forgotten gems from the expansive pasts of country, old-time, blues, and bluegrass.

My version of "Walk Along John" is digital, so I don't know who is playing exactly what on each track, but that doesn't matter to me. It is a stellar bluegrass instrumental album, the type of disc that makes the IBMA's decision of a few years ago to no longer recognize instrumental albums appear that much more short-sighted.

I write all of that to write this. As part of my ongoing feature of "The Story Behind..." bluegrass band names, I recently asked British Columbia-based, northern California born- and raised- John Reischman to reflect on how The Jaybirds name came to be used. Much like the man himself, not to mention his playing, John's story is succinct:

"When John Miller and I made our first recording "The Singing Moon", it came out on Corvus Records which was started by Susan Crowe. Corvus is Latin for Crow. A few years later, I made my bluegrass recording called "Up in the Woods." I thought the name Corvus was a bit high toned for a hillbilly recording and thought there should maybe be a bluegrass subsidiary of Corvus called Jaybird Records. Jays are in the same family as crows.

The CD did come out on Corvus, but I still liked the name Jaybird. When the album came out, I put together a band to do some release shows and called the band John Reischman & the Jaybirds. It was so much fun I kept the band going making only one personnel change. We have had the same five people in the band for 12 years."

Perhaps that is what holds John back from widespread acclaim- he is matter-of-fact, not given to hyperbole or expansive displays of attention seeking behaviour. Give the man a chance to converse, and he can talk your ear off on all matters of subjects, be it some (to me) obscure old-time fiddler's recording of an ancient tune, or on the merits of his band mates contributions to the ensemble. But, he isn't a salesman, nor is he a showboat. Like the unassuming gentlemen of a previous time, Reischman tends to allow his deeds to speak for themselves.

"Walk Along John" conveys his message most acutely.

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