If you want solid, no-nonsense bluegrass music these days, you won’t go wrong with any release by John Reischman and The Jaybirds. Their latest release On That Other Green Shore is no exception. That’s no accident, of course. One of the top mandolin players of his generation, Reischman has been involved in bluegrass and other roots music for better than 30 years, and has played with many of the greats. He was right there when the so-called “new acoustic music” was pioneered by The Good Ol’ Persons. Since moving from the San Francisco Bay Area to British Columbia in the ’90s, he has made a number of solo albums with guests handpicked from the top musicians of the Pacific Northwest, and this is his seventh release with The Jaybirds.
The first time I listened through Green Shore I thought, “they’re really emphasizing the ‘blues’ part of bluegrass this time.’ ” One of the two tunes that Reischman penned for the album, “Red Diamond,” in particular reminds me of the bluesy music of the Seldom Scene way back in the ’70s that first attracted me to contemporary bluegrass. Fiddler Greg Spatz in particular captures that sound. Their take on the traditional “Today Has Been A Lonesome Day” also emphasizes that song’s blues roots, with bassist Trisha Gagnon singing lead with her earthy alto. Guitarist Jim Nunally’s sprightly paced but sad love song “Gonna Walk” continues the blues theme, and the ensemble gives a very bluesy tone to the spiritual number “Green Pastures,” again led by Gagnon.
That’s just one way to look at this album, of course. It’s also just great as a collection of bluegrass and old-time music. It’s bookended with superb instrumentals: banjo-player Nick Hornbuckle’s lively bluegrass breakdown “Wellesley Station” sets the feeling for the whole collection, and of course showcases Nick’s sharp picking and sense of melody. The traditional “Katie Bar The Door” wraps things up, led by Spatz on fiddle – he brought this one to the recording sessions, and says he got it from the fiddling of Rayna Gellert and others. Spatz’s wife Caridwen Irvine Spatz (herself a fiddler) contributed the lovely “Thistletown” on which Greg plays a beautiful lead line with echoes of Appalachian, Celtic and even a tiny bit of Balkan fiddling. It goes without saying that Reischman himself contributes superb playing throughout, whether supporting with rhythm behind the others or taking melodic solos. All of these players put the group ahead of themselves, none moreso than bassist Trisha Gagnon. Her playing isn’t splashy but it’s always spot-on.
Any review of a Jaybirds record that doesn’t mention the vocals is not a serious review. Gagnon and Nunally share most of the lead singing duties, but everyone but the fiddler gets in on the act. In fact Reischman and Gagnon sing a beautiful duet on the Lennon-McCartney song “Two Of Us” (the opening cut from *Let It Be*) which works great in a bluegrass setting. Gagnon sings high harmonies with Nunally on his “Gonna Walk.” And everyone joins in with impeccable four-part harmony on the gospel song “Don’t You Hear The Lambs A-Crying” (which contains the line that gives the album its name).
Bluegrass, oldtime, gospel, multi-part harmonies, danceable instrumentals, even a Beatles cover – as usual, The Jaybirds do it all just right. Including once again beautiful album artwork from some guy named Audubon, and designed by another musician and artist, Pharis Romero.