• author
    • Kate Laddish

    • April 10, 2013 in Columnists

    John Reischman & The Jaybirds bring stellar bluegrass to Northern California

    John Reischman & The Jaybirds are an award-winning five-piece American and Canadian bluegrass ensemble that combines breath-taking instrumental mastery, spot-on multi-part vocal harmonies, and five talented songwriters and arrangers into vibrant recordings and dynamic performances; The Jaybirds are in Northern California for a series of concerts and music camps this month.

    John Reischman & The Jaybirds are (left to right) Trisha Gagnon, Greg Spatz, Nick Hornbuckle, John Reischman, and Jim Nunally (photo by Mike Melnyk)

    John Reischman & The Jaybirds are (left to right) Trisha Gagnon, Greg Spatz, Nick Hornbuckle, John Reischman, and Jim Nunally (photo by Mike Melnyk)

    The members of The Jaybirds — John Reischman (mandolin, vocals), Jim Nunally (guitar, vocals), Trisha Gagnon (bass, vocals), Nick Hornbuckle (banjo), and Greg Spatz (fiddle) — are all truly masterful musicians, capable of licks and solos that are nothing short of virtuosic. Reischman’s fingers fly up and down his exquisite Lloyd Loar-made Gibson mandolin in a blur creating gorgeous streams of notes; Nunally does acoustic acrobatics on the guitar that are all the more surprising given his economy of movement, Spatz lets loose some tasty fiddling that is by turns joyful, fiery, and plaintive; Hornbuckle employs clawhammer and Scruggs-style banjo to create sounds ranging from driving to delicate; Gagnon’s bass-playing adds subtle and lovely harmonies to the instrumental mix. Nearly all of the Jaybirds have been featured (some more than once) in publications specializing in their instrument; all are highly sought-after sidemen, mentors, and teachers.

    But virtuosic playing alone does not a great band make — and The Jaybirds have all the necessary ingredients that allow them to rise above being an aggregate of powerfully gifted pickers to being an engaging and enjoyable ensemble. Rather than cranking out mind-bendingly complex solos that do little more than say “Look what I can do!” the Jaybirds use their instrumental prowess to support each others’ vocal and instrumental solos in addition to taking turns stepping forward with their own solos that are extraordinary both for the tremendous talent behind them as well as for the restraint and taste to fit each solo into the song in a way that and augments them rather than breaking the feel and flow of the piece.

    The Jaybirds’ vocal talents and diverse arrangements are a significant part of the band’s appeal. With more than one Jaybird fully capable of singing lead (Gagnon and Nunally do the lion’s share), The Jaybirds fit the right voice to each song; the variety in vocals makes for a more dynamic listening experience as well. Reischman, Gagnon and Nunally blend their voices into a mellifluous three-part harmonic “stack” so well that it’s difficult to tease apart the sonic braid and find where one voice ends and the other begins.

    With five talented songwriters in the band, John Reischman & The Jaybirds are in the enviable position of being able to draw their material from multiple original sources from within their midst, bringing another layer of diversity to their sound. In addition to the original tunes, The Jaybirds are talented arrangers who take traditional songs and turn them into something fresh but never in a way that sounds forced or contrived.

    One mark of a truly great band is how well the individuals within it blend their talents into a sum that is greater than its parts—and John Reischman & The Jaybirds more than meet this standard. Bands whose members communicate well—who pay attention to each other while playing, who listen to the whole sound and see how they can fit into it best, who are able to change things in the moment with subtle looks and nods and lifts of instruments—are the bands that rise above the rest; to see John Reischman & The Jaybirds in concert is a sweet lesson in convivial and effective musical communication.

    John Reischman & The Jaybirds’ dates in Northern California conclude with a show at The Palms Playhouse (13 Main Street in Winters) on Friday, April 12. Tickets for the 8 p.m. show are $20 and are available at Pacific Ace Hardware in Winters, Armadillo Music in Davis, Watermelon Music in Woodland, and at the door if not sold out. For more information, visit palmsplayhouse.com and thejaybirds.com.

    John Reischman & The Jaybirds’ April schedule:
    ~ Friday April 5-Monday April 8—Walker Creek Music Camp, Petaluma, CA
    ~ Tuesday April 9—Little River Inn, Mendocino, CA
    ~ Thursday April 11—Mighty Fine Guitars, Lafayette, CA
    ~ Friday April 12—The Palms Playhouse, Winters, CA

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