JOHN REISCHMAN, WALK ALONG JOHN
Corvus Records CR020
No one makes a mandolin sound better than John Reischman. Never flashy or ostentatious, Reischman has this sonic sorcerer’s ability to play the right note or phrase at just the right place with exquisite taste and tone. California-born Reischman has built an exceedingly long and impressive career with some of the West Coast’s bluegrass luminaries, including Kathy Kallick and Tony Rice in his post Grisman Quintet band, the Tony Rice Unit. And his work as leader of his own stellar group, the Jaybirds, has further entrenched his reputation as one of America’s greatest mandolinists.
On his second solo CD, Walk Along John, Reischman takes a contemplative and engaging perspective on string band music. The opening cut, “Itzbin Reel,” merges his lush, expansive sonic signature with the virtuoso skills of Chris Thile, who puts all his musical gifts to work to create a true duo sound with both mandolins playing eagerly off each other like wolf pups in a Yellowstone meadow. Never content to hew exclusively to hard-core bluegrass, John slips into old-time mode on “Walk Along John To Kansas,” where he shows off his impressive skills on mandola with fiddle legend Bruce Molsky. Another tune in that tradition is his interpretation of “Salt River,” rendered here as an elegant mandolin/clawhammer banjo duet with Canadian banjo hero Chris Coole. “A Prairie Jewel” has him join forces with noted Pacific Northwest guitarist Eli West on a delicate waltz that gives him wide open music spaces to lay down his trademark mandolin sound.
One measure of John’s true greatness is the caliber of musicians he draws into his personal circle. Here he enlists former Lonesome River Band great Kenny Smith, easily one of the most tasteful and tuneful musicians in bluegrass today. Their rendition of Reischman’s original “Little Pine Siskin” (what is it with birds, John?) is just stellar. Kenny also sits in on the bluegrass beatdown,“Side By Side” with the stunning Alex Hargreaves on fiddle, and the delicate and haunting final cut “Anisa’s Lullaby,” which Reischman wrote for his granddaughter.
Again and again, the world-renowned Reischman Loar F-5 mandolin, a legendary instrument even among the aficionados of those incredibly rare and exclusive instruments, appears as if summoned by some musical conjurer. John’s great gift as a musician is that he seems to elicit, rather than extract, notes from his instrument in a way that never sounds forced, hurried or unwelcome. No one plays like him, and we are all the richer for it.
If you didn’t know his background, it would be easy to mislabel John Reischman, with his beard, wire-rim glasses and wry smile, as a tenured college professor. That’s okay, on Walk Along John, he uses a few well-chosen notes and phrases to school just about every other mandolinist out there. Walk along John…we’ll be following right along behind you. (www.johnreischman.com.)DJM