Similarity, in a good way, is the word for recordings from John Reischman and the Jaybirds. Not the music on the records, just the quality and the musicianship. You can always count on Reischman’s exquisite mandolin work and its clear, fluid, and articulated lines with beautiful tone, timing, and drive. Guitarist Jim Nunally will always have an attacking snap to his leads. Banjoist Nick Hornbuckle will always be propulsive and intricately creative, while fiddler Greg Spatz can always be counted on to be both tuneful and expressive. Bassist Trisha Gagnon’s voice will always be a velvety, mid-range instrument in itself and provide a counter to the McCoury-tinted, more traditional leads of Nunally. Overall, you can always count on the band’s unique sound, its mix of fire and laid-back elegance with a loose good-time feel.
All that applies here. From the opening lick/figure (lifted from Reischman’s “Eighth Of February”) that introduces their variant of “Shady Grove” to the closing grace of Reischman’s tremelo-laced “Bitteroot Waltz,” this is a wonderfully evocative album. There are fourteen tracks, of which five are instrumentals and eight are originals. Only “Shady Grove” and “The First Whippoorwill” are standards. Nunally sings four leads and anchors the traditional bluegrass side. His original, “Consider Me Gone,” is probably his best work here—a bright and catchy take (particularly the chorus) on the standard “moving on” theme. Also well-done are his versions of “Goin’ Across The Sea” and his duet on “The First Whippoorwill,” the latter of which blends folk smoothness and Monroe’s blues perfectly.
Among Gagnon’s five vocals, the ones that most grab the attention are her originals, one being her poignant look at the Chinese immigrant experience, “Gold Mountain.” The other is her lively original, “Hurry Up And Harvest,” which like Nunally’s tune is bright and catchy (again, particularly in the chorus). She also handles the lead on the get-up-and-move gospel tune, “Gabriel’s Call.” As for the five instrumentals, they’re all good. Reischman’s “The Old Grove,” taken in 3/4 with an interesting rhythmic pulse, is intriguing and captivating, as is Spatz’s “Lancaster Sound” and Hornbuckle’s uptempo “The Black Road.” A good word need also be said for the traditional and bluesy version of “Last Chance.”
Why, after nearly ten years together and five quality recordings, the Jaybirds haven’t garnered more recognition is hard to fathom. Maybe this one will break them through. (Hearth Music, 14879 6th Ave. NE, Shoreline, WA 98155, www.thejaybirds.com.) BW