CD Review – John Reischman “Walk Along John”
As a west coast Canadian, bluegrass has always seemed like an exotic musical form. When I hear it, I think of mountains, forests, rivers, and a rural lifestyle that has long past and gone. Artists like Ralph Stanley and the Monroe Brothers loom like Biblical characters in my imagination, leathery, rugged and indisputably American. In the same way that I always think that reggae bands from Jamaica are better than ones from England or Canada, I’ve always thought you have to be from somewhere in the American south to play bluegrass with conviction and that elusive, ineffable quality that is authenticity. It’s probably unfair to pigeonhole any form of expression like that. There are just too many exceptions. Recently for example, I have really kind of enjoyed listening to the young Chinese kids from down the street playing old Bob Marley songs in the basement of the Italian boxing club on the corner while I work out. There’s something so perfectly Canadian about it that it gives me hope and makes me smile. So, really, I shouldn’t have felt so bemused and skeptical when the John Reischman CD arrived in the mail yesterday.John’s an old time bluegrass mandolin player, and he’s one of the best on the circuit today, and the closest I’ve heard he’s been to being from anywhere down south was the California of his childhood. He’s lived just a few kilometres away from me, over the bridge and down the highway a stretch for decades, and I guess I owe him an apology for not giving his incredible music the time of day until now. It’s not a mistake I’ll make again because ‘Walk Along John’, the newest in a string of albums from Reishman -as a solo artist and with his band The Jaybirds – is one of the best bluegrass records I’ve heard in ages.
One of the most enjoyable things about listening to ‘Walk Along John’ is that other than two traditionals – the title track and ‘Little Maggie’ – all of the compositions on the album were written by Reischman. For as much as I love all of those classic old tunes, it’s such a pleasure to hear Reischman honour the genre by writing songs that reflect his own experiences instead of revisiting paths that have been well worn with time and frequent travel. Technically, Reischman is one of the best. He can rip it up on his mandolin like few others can, and he clearly enjoys turning melodies on their head and changing direction at lighting speed, but to my ears, it’s when he brings it down a bit that all of the subtlety and nuance in his playing comes out. Tunes like the lovely ‘A Prairie Jewel’ and ‘Anisa’s Lullaby’ are heartbreakingly beautiful and deserve to be heard by everyone.
‘Walk Along John’ is a wonderful album that came as a complete surprise for me. I can’t recommend it enough, for as soon as I finish writing this, I’m off to the local library to look for more of Reischman’s music. I’ve got a lot of catching up to do.
This posting also appears at www.restlessandreal.blogspot.com
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