John Reischman & The Jaybirds bring “On That Other Green Shore” to California, Montana
Since forming almost 20 years ago, John Reischman & The Jaybirds have honed their own style of bluegrass, wedding the genre’s characteristic rapid-fire solos and stacked vocal harmonies with an old-time, almost gentle, touch.
When the Jaybirds wing their way to California and Montana this spring, the quintet will bring a new guitarist and a new album, “On That Other Green Shore.”
When bandleader John Reischman plays, his fingers fly up and down his Lloyd Loar-made Gibson mandolin in a blur, creating streams of notes. Yet his playing never feels rushed. He’s a master of tone, bringing sweetness to the virtuosic licks.
Reischman got his start in the 1970s playing with the groundbreaking Tony Rice Unit, a group credited with kick-starting the “new acoustic music” branch of bluegrass music. A stint in ground-breaking Bay Area band the Good Ol’ Persons followed in the 1980s. He most recently played at The Palms as part of the backing band for the annual California Banjo Extravaganza.
The California-bred, Canada-based musician has won a Grammy and been nominated for a Juno. His most recent solo release, “Walk Along John,” includes guest turns by Chris Thile, Bruce Molsky and Tony Trischka.
When Reischman assembled the Jaybirds in the 1990s, he sought musicians who could deliver the mix of bluegrass, old-time and contemporary influences he envisioned. The sound Reischman’s after requires a tricky balance of forthright solos and supportive playing. There’s ample room for excellence, but not for grand-standing.
“John is the artistic director, basically,” explained banjo player Nick Hornbuckle in a 2014 documentary by John Lawless. “He has the focus of each album, and the focus of the band in general.”
Singer and bassist Tricia Gagnon said, “Once we got the idea of what he was after, we all started writing to fulfill that sound.”
“It’s a band of really thoughtful people who’re really paying attention,” said fiddler Greg Spatz.
“It’s so exciting standing on stage and playing with them and listening to what they come up with,” Gagnon said.
Reischman said that all the Jaybirds play “with the same kind of feel,” and that it’s “really satisfying” to play with this band.
“It’s fun!” he said. “It’s just a lot of fun.”
In concert, the musicians array themselves in a loose semi-circle, attuned to each others’ cues and weaving around a center vocal mike.
Spatz’s fiddle solos are by turns joyful, fiery and plaintive. Hornbuckle employs clawhammer and Scruggs-style playing, leaning in for driving banjo breaks and supplying delicate backing lines, while Gagnon provides the instrumental foundation as well as the lead vocals for many of the songs.
Patrick Sauber joined the band on guitar and vocals last year after original guitarist Jim Nunally left to concentrate on other projects. A multi-instrumentalist, Sauber also plays banjo in Laurie Lewis and The Right Hands and Loafer’s Glory as well as Cajun button accordion and mandolin in other outfits. He has recorded with Doc Watson, Herb Pedersen, Weird Al Yankovic, The Limeliters, Dirk Powell and others.
At the invitation of director Christopher Guest, Sauber appeared in the folk music satire “A Mighty Wind,” playing the banjo player in The New Main Street Singers in the movie as well as on the soundtrack and resulting tour.
The Jaybirds’ seventh album, “On That Other Green Shore,” features original and traditional songs and instrumentals, plus a bluegrass version of the Beatles’ “Two of Us” that showcases the group’s warm vocal harmonies.
For more information, visit thejaybirds.com and the venues’ websites.
John Reischman & The Jaybirds’ Spring 2018 tour dates:
March 8 – The Palms Playhouse, Winters, Calif.
March 9 – Point Richmond Acoustic, Point Richmond, Calif.
March 10 – Sonoma County Folk and Bluegrass Festival, Sebastopol, Calif.
April 5 – Longstaff House, Missoula, Mont.
April 6 – The Alumni Room, Great Falls, Mont.
April 7 – Cisel Ballroom at Montana State University, Billings, Mont.
April 8 – The Old Depot Theatre, Dillon, Mont.
May 11 – San Diego Bluegrass Society at La Jolla Christian Fellowship Church, La Jolla, Calif.
May 12 – Deep End Sessions, Santa Paula, Calif.
May 13 – Piazza’s Pine Cone Inn, Kernville, Calif