Pop/Rock/World CD Reviews

John Reischman & the Jaybirds – Stellar Jays – Corvus Records

Virtuosic and heartfelt Bluegrass from a modern day mandolin master.

Published on June 12, 2007

John Reischman & the Jaybirds – Stellar Jays – Corvus Records
John Reischman & the Jaybirds – Stellar Jays – Corvus Records CR015, 53:24 *****:

“Stellar Jays” is the fourth album from John Reischman & the Jaybirds, a west coast Bluegrass group. Their first album as a group came out in 2001. This time around, they’re tapping into a more hardcore Bluegrass sound. It’s safe to say that this is their best effort so far and can securely stand alongside anything Bluegrass has to offer.

John Reischman is a mandolin virtuoso. Capable of playing in a variety of styles, from jazz to Latin, Reischman has total command of the instrument. When he is in Bluegrass mode, he delivers rock-solid chops, intricate cross-picking, and sensitive, emotive solos. He is one of those virtuosos that make everything sound easy, even when it’s anything but easy. He never sounds like he’s working hard; all the notes just seem to flow out of him. Reischman’s greatest strength as a mandolinist is his tone. Every note sounds with a richness and depth unequalled by any other player.

For the instrumental side of the Jaybirds, he’s gathered some of the best available musicians. Jim Nunally handles the flat-picked guitar with dexterity and finesse. Nick Hornbuckle weighs in on banjo, adding texture and color while maintaining musicality. Trisha Gagnon plays the upright bass, providing the essential rhythmic foundation for the band. Greg Spatz is the fiddler of the group and as such he is one of the best and most underrated Bluegrass fiddlers in the business. His fluid bluesy virtuosic playing is flawlessly delivered time after time, making him the perfect complement to Reischman’s mandolin. Hearing them play in sync on the blazingly fast passages is simply breathtaking.

Lead vocals are split between Trish Gagnon and Jim Nunally, though John Reischman and Nick Hornbuckle join in on harmonies. In past efforts, Trish’s voice seemed faintly colored by folk and Celtic singing, but on “Stellar Jays” she has lost some of her restraint and has ramped up her sound. Her voice now fits in securely in the Bluegrass tradition. Jim sings in the High Lonesome tradition of Bluegrass singing (like Del McCoury or Ralph Stanley), and in my opinion, he’s not far from being recognized as one of the best Bluegrass tenors working today. While considered by some to be an acquired taste, this style of singing is the true essence of Bluegrass.

For the first time, all of the band members contribute original songs to the album. But it all comes down to this; every track on “Stellar Jays” is a hands-down winner. It’s fresh, vibrant, original music that lovingly honors and acknowledges its Bluegrass roots. Highly listenable. Highly recommended.

- Hermon Joyner

TrackList:
The Jaybird Song (3:13)
Her Bright Smile Haunts Me Still (4:33)
A Dime in My Pocket (3:14)
The Drunkard’s Lantern (3:33)
Cleo Belle (3:19)
What Are They Doing in Heaven Today? (4:20)
The House Carpenter (5:47)
Deception Falls (3:53)
I Am the Man, Thomas (3:38)
Bash Bish Falls (2:05)
On My Way To You (4:47)
Something I Don’t Want to Know (4:21)
Fire on the Mountain (3:17)
Mississippi Hoedown (2:58)
 




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