Archive for the ‘John Reischman & The Jaybirds’ Tag

Fervor Coulee’s Favourite Roots & Bluegrass Albums of 2017   1 comment

Mac WisemanWhat is roots music?

I frequently have to remind myself that not everything I seek out is ‘roots.’ When I start considering Little Steven or Danko Jones (Wild Cat might have been my favourite album of 2017) albums as ‘roots’ music, I may be starting to lose the plot. So I pull myself back.

However, looking over the many lists of ‘the best of Americana, roots, folk, and bluegrass albums of 2017’ I wonder if many of us need to go back to the blackboard, and reconsider the definition of roots music. Right, there is no definition.

I started my ‘favourite roots albums of 2017’ with a list of 60 or so albums, and slowly started winnowing them to a manageable twenty. In the process most of the albums I’ve seen on other published lists fell aside (Willie Nelson’s God’s Problem Child and Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit’s The Nashville Sound among them.)

It was an excellent year for roots music, in my opinion. I know that when I mull over who else didn’t make the cut: Steve Earle, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Scott Miller, Sharon Jones, Slaid Cleaves, Rhiannon Giddens, Matt Patershuk, Doc & Merle Watson (the truncated version of the live Bear’s Sonic Journals set), Chris bleeding Hillman and Northern Cree (my final cuts), David Rawlings, Mark Erelli, Josh Ritter, Jeb Loy Nichols, Kim Beggs, Radney Foster, Dustbowl Revival, Amy Black…each album removed from consideration was naturally more difficult than the one before.

I’ve been sitting on this final version of Fervor Coulee’s Favourite Roots Albums of 2017 for a few days now, and I know I will cry out with frustration about an hour after it is published: chances are I’ve missed something special, an album of significance that fell behind a cupboard. I only discovered the latest from Eric Brace, Peter Cooper, and Thomm Jutz this week, and while I am loving it, in no way could it be fairly placed ahead of albums I’ve been appreciating for months. (Also discovered this week: this.)

As always, I have not heard every roots album released in 2017 and that is why I always refer to the list as ‘favourites,’ not best. As well, since I refuse to stream (beyond WDVX and CKUA) I can only consider that which I’ve either purchased or been serviced with from labels, artists, and PR types. I’ve chosen to roll bluegrass into the roots albums this year, eschewing a separate lists this year: that may or may not be indicative of how I’m feeling about most bluegrass releases.

Here we go: as always, no wagering.

  1. Mac Wiseman- I Sang the Song (Mountain Fever Records) While #2 came close, it couldn’t overtake this early favourite. Produced and written with care and consideration, Mac Wiseman’s story is told through carefully crafted songs performed by some of Americana, roots, and bluegrass music’s finest performers. Kudos to Peter Cooper and Thomm Jutz for fully involving ‘the voice with a heart’ in this production. Full review here. (Provided by label/PR)
  2. OtisOtis Gibbs- Mount Renraw (Wanamaker) East Nashville sage Otis Gibbs is perhaps America’s coolest working folk musician. Mount Renraw has held up over countless listenings. Full review here. (Provided by label/PR)
  3. K and CKacy & Clayton- The Siren’s Song (New West) Seldom have I been so wrong about an artist. These Saskatchewan cousins’ previous album didn’t impress me when it was released. Thankfully, I listened to both Strange Country and this most recent album with fresh ears this summer. The Siren’s Song is masterful. Full review here. (Provided by label/PR)
  4. gibson_2The Gibson Brothers- In the Ground (Rounder) The group’s finest album yet, and that is saying a lot. That it contains an entirely original set of songs makes the feat even more impressive. Full review here. (Provided by label/PR)
  5. DABDale Ann Bradley- Dale Ann Bradley (Pinecastle Records) When a Dale Ann Bradley album isn’t in my ‘top two’ of the year, you know either she has slipped or the year is particularly strong. No slip on the part of Bradley here: another masterful album of bluegrass music. Full review here. (Provided by label/PR)
  6. CrowellRodney Crowell- Close Ties (New West) Somewhere along the line, Rodney Crowell went from a compelling Americana singer and damn terrific songwriter to a walking legend: it may have happened with Close Ties, an album that saw him dig even deeper to find the heart of ten masterfully crafted songs that are more than enough for him to assume Guy Clark’s abandoned mantle. It goes beyond “It Ain’t Over Yet” and “Life Without Susanna,” as masterful as those tracks are. Every moment resonates, especially live, and the anguish with which he sings is genuine. Purchased
  7. TyminskiDan Tyminski- Southern Gothic (UMG) Along with Buffy Ste. Marie’s album, this is the one that sounds best loud. “We have a church on every corner, so why does heaven feel so far away?” Union Station’s ‘other’ main singer asks on the title track, and it just keeps going. Certainly more “Hey Brother” than “O Brother,” with Southern Gothic the bluegrass stalwart steps away from the traditional sounds he has long favoured to head toward a full-bodied rock and roll country approach that is wholly effective. The album is deep, no filler—song after song of surprisingly strong vocal and instrumental performances. Other standout tracks include “Perfect Poison,” “Temporary Love” and “Breathing Fire.” Southern Gothic has spent a solid day in my CD player on repeat on more than one occasion. Purchased
  8. ronsexsmith_3Ron Sexsmith- The Last Rider Continuing a streak of excellence, Sexsmith’s 16th (!) album may just be his finest. Excellent songs, catchy melodies, accessible production…I’ve seldom been so proud to have shown support for a musician. A very strong album, just the latest in a series of memorable, standout recordings. The songs alternate between playful and introspective, catchy and maudlin. Layered, but not flamboyant. I am really glad that I bought the album, and even more glad that I took the time to make the trek to see Ron and the band in Edmonton. Surprised and disappointed that this one didn’t receive deserving Polaris Music Prize attention. “Radio” is my favourite song of the year. Purchased
  9. Murder MurderMurder Murder- Wicked Lines and Veins (self-released) Canadian bluegrass with a side of grievous bodily harm. One of my Polaris Music Prize suggestions for this year. Full review here. (Provided by band)
  10. JaybirdsJohn Reischman & the Jaybirds- On That Other Green Shore (Corvus) Long Canada’s finest and most entertaining bluegrass band, the west coast-based band has again delivered a superior recording. Full review here. (Provided by band)
  11. JMJohn Mellencamp with Carlene Carter- Sad Clowns and Hillbillies (Republic) Full review here. (Purchased)
  12. Chris-stapleton-from-a-room-volume-1Chris-stapleton-from-a-room-volume-2Chris Stapleton- From A Room, Volumes 1 and 2 Country music’s last hope? Maybe. Not sure how he is doing it without radio support, but glad he is. Like no one else, of course, Stapleton doesn’t limit himself, reaching out to Kevin Welch (“Millionaire”), the music’s past (“Last Thing I Needed First Thing This Morning,” “Friendship”) and his own (“Broken Halos,” “Drunkard’s Prayer,” “Midnight Train to Memphis”) to make his new albums even stronger. (Purchased)
  13. made_to_moveChris Jones & the Night Drivers- Made to Move (Mountain Home) Full review here. (Provided by artist/label)
  14. Ann VriendAnn Vriend- Anybody’s Different EP (Aporia Records) Building on the immense power of her Love and Other Messes and For the People in the Mean Time albums, this six-track treat is on all my devices, and continues to get played regularly. A lively combination of soul, rock, and roots from a voice all should hear. (Purchased)
  15. Stax_Country_COVER_RGBVarious Artists- Stax Country (Craft Recordings/Concord Music) A deep dive into Stax’s associated country labels. Full review here. (Provided by label/PR)
  16. Akinny DyckSkinny Dyck & Friends- Twenty One-Night Stands Alberta country music is alive and well. Just not on the radio. Full review here. (Provided by Skinny Dyck)
  17. Lynn JacksonLynn Jackson- Follow That Fire (Busted Flat) My second 2018 Polaris Music Prize recommendation. Full review here. (Provided by label/PR)
  18. steve_forbert_flying_at_nightSteve Forbert- Flying at Night (Rolling Tide) I once wanted to be Steve Forbert. It didn’t happen. Forty years later, he continues to impress with each album. A bit brief for my liking, but better that than too long. Purchased
  19. buffy_3Buffy Sainte-Marie- Medicine Songs (High Romance) On which one of the most transformative Canadian artist re-imagines her catalogue, coming off her (perhaps) surprising Polaris Prize winning Power In The Blood. Collaborating with Tanya Tagaq on the powerful and catchy “You Got To Run (Spirit of the Wind,)” Sainte-Marie helps the uninitiated play catch up to 50 years of influential music. Play loud. Purchased
  20. becky warrenBecky Warren- War Surplus (Deluxe Edition) (self-released) War Surplus came out in 2016, but didn’t come to my attention until the Deluxe Edition was released this summer. A concept album (war veteran and the woman he loves), Warren has made a record to be remembered; the narrative is apparent, the instrumental and vocal changes keep us engaged, and it holds up over time. With an approach not dissimilar to Lucinda Williams although with better annunciation than we’ve experienced from LW this past decade, Warren allows listeners to become invested in her creations; the characters become real, without any of the bravado or self-satisfaction that sometimes hamstrings this type of recording. (Provided by label/PR)

That’s pretty much it for 2017 here at Fervor Coulee. I still have a couple projects sitting on my desk requiring my attention, and I will get to them next week…I hope.

It has been a great year- let’s see what the future brings.


John Reischman & the Jaybirds- On That Other Green Shore review   1 comment


John Reischman & the Jaybirds
On That Other Green Shore
Corvus Records

It has long been known that John Reischman & the Jaybirds are one of my favourite bluegrass combos. To my ears, they have everything I expect from a band—vocal complexity and diversity, exceptional instrumentation and harmonic interplay, rock solid material with a curiosity  for the past and the ingenuity of creative originality.

When I was booking bands for the local association, The Jaybirds were the first non-locals I pursued. In subsequent appearances they never disappointed. I have seen them live about as many times as any bluegrass band I have witnessed, and even briefly used their “Jaybird Ramble” as my radio show theme song.

So, I’m a fan. But I am also a critic, and understand perhaps why they have never ‘broke through’ within the bluegrass world. Being based in western Canada has possibly been an impediment. I’ve heard some say that can appear a bit too polished, and maybe have at times appeared a bit ‘stiff’ on stage, especially early on. Still, the quality of their five previous full-fledged albums (and a seasonal EP) are without question—one of the strongest catalogues any bluegrass band can present since their debut of 2001. Why they are still not as recognized as other bluegrass bands—the Balsam Ranges, the Gibsons, the IIIrd Tyme Outs, and others—remains a mystery to my way of thinking.

John Reischman—having played with the Good Ol’ Persons, Tony Rice, John Miller, Kathy Kallick, and more—has long been one of bluegrass music’s most impressive and versatile mandolinists. Deeply influenced by Bill Monroe, Reischman has had the added benefit of being able to not only follow the inspiration of the instrument’s traditional Master, but to hear and work with others to provide guidance as well as the dedication to shape the instrument and its musical presentation in his own image.

Reischman’s bandmates Nick Hornbuckle (a more than impressive 5-stringer playing in an adapted 2-finger style), Trisha Gagnon (a tasteful bassist with an incredible voice in both lead and harmony positions),  Greg Spatz (an immensely sensitive and versatile fiddler and, as an aside, a formidable writer of prose), and Jim Nunally (a man of many hats including producer, absolutely devastating guitarist, and a singer rivaling Del McCoury, in my opinion) are unparalleled on the Canadian bluegrass scene (the fact that two-members of the group are naturalized Canadian citizens and only Gagnon is Canadian by birth doesn’t escape me) and—should this be a competition—could stand mic-to-mic with any of the most prominent bluegrass bands. [Someone will need to be the referee here, but I believe I may have just written a 113-word sentence that is almost grammatically justified.]

With the release of On That Other Green Shore this summer also comes news that Jim Nunally has left the group, the first personnel changeover the group has experienced. As I’ve already noted, Nunally has been one of the five pillars of the group, and his departure is significant. His playing and singing, as well as personality and songwriting, will be missed. For the unfamiliar, sample the two-song burst mid-set on Field Guide: “Arrowhead,” a Hornbuckle composition, features stunning flat-picking from Nunally while “Shackled and Chained,” one of his songs, is one of Nunally’s many fine vocal performances as a Jaybird.

One That Other Green Shore is not terribly different from previous JR&JB releases, and that is no criticism. The group has established an appealing and winning formula. The group boasts five song- and tune-writers, four vocalists, three-part harmonies, an untouchable duo of lead singers in Gagnon and Nunally, and a singular focus on making bluegrass music that is dynamic and memorable. As they typically do, the Jaybirds here refresh under-appreciated (or at least, under-known) songs from the Americana-roots-old time traditions, mix in some gospels and cracking instrumentals, and a handful of instrumentals as well as (this time) a song from The Beatles to create a unified representation of modern bluegrass.

Gagnon’s “I Don’t Want to Say Goodbye,” written upon her father’s passing, is not only emotional but also soothing. Two numbers feature the Jaybirds’ four-part vocal harmony ‘wall of sound.’ “You’ve Got To Righten That Wrong” and “Don’t You Hear The Lambs A-Crying” come from previous times but seem entirely apropos to current world circumstance, perhaps in ways the originators never intended. Spatz doesn’t contribute an original fiddle tune this time out, but brings to the group Caridwen Irvine Spatz’s “Thistletown,” a mournful and introspective piece well-placed within the 13-song set.

Nanually’s “Gonna Walk” features strong guitar lines, and I suppose serves as a fitting farewell nod to the group of which he has been integral the better part of two decades. “Today Has Been a Lonesome Day” is a song we’ve long heard at Jaybird shows, but makes its recorded debut here: interestingly, for a number that the group first worked up long ago, Patrick Sauber (who is the newest Jaybird) joins the group here on baritone.


new jaybirds

The ‘new’ Jaybirds: Image borrowed from the internet: no credit apparent, but will correct/remove if requested


Reischman has written dozens of memorable instrumentals, and “Daylighting the Creek” (listen to Spatz’s fiddle here—dang!) and “Red Diamond” join the list. His lead take on Paul McCartney’s “Two of Us,” in duet and close harmony with Gagnon, is a highlight of this recording. As they have done before (think “Shady Grove” from Vintage & Unique and “The House Carpenter” on Stellar Jays) the Jaybirds inject new shades to a familiar piece with the closing “Katie Bar the Door.”

As all John Reischman & the Jaybirds albums have been, On That Other Green Shore is beautifully packaged, and for those who still believe such matters, is well-deserving of purchase as a physical CD. Sneaking up on twenty years, John Reischman & the Jaybirds remain a vibrant part of contemporary bluegrass. Search them out.


Nick Hornbuckle- 12X2(+/-1) review   Leave a comment

nickhornbuckle-6-24-14Nick Hornbuckle recently released his debut solo recording, a collection of mostly traditional old-time fiddle tunes given new arrangements for banjo in a variety of (mostly) duo settings. As a long-time proponent of the special music created by John Reischman & the Jaybirds, with whom Hornbuckle has played for some 15+ years, it should be no surprise to anyone that I can’t get enough of this recording. Not truly a bluegrass recording, it certainly fits into my catch-all acoustiblue category- certainly bluegrass friendly with an emphasis on approaching old-time tunes in a new way.

The album features twelve tunes interpreted by Hornbuckle and a small group of colleagues- John Reischman is in for three pieces. The other musicians- Miriam Sonstenese (fiddle), Emma Beaton (cello), Shanti Bremer (banjo), and Marisha Devoin (bass)- weren’t previously known to me, but their contributions, along with Hornbuckle’s vision, create an album that is truly unlike anything I’ve encountered anytime recently.

My review of the album is up over at Fervor Coulee Bluegrass, part of the Country Standard Time family of blogs. I hope you’ll take the time to give it a read, and then search out the recording either at, CD Baby, iTunes, or your favourite retailer of quality music.

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald


Roots Song of the Week: John Reischman & the Jaybirds- “Blackberry Bramble”   1 comment

the road westTyping on a borrowed, slow computer from Vancouver Island, so I’m going to be quick. Had you asked a week ago my opinion on blackberries, I would have said, “Nugh.” Then I tasted them straight off the bush yesterday. They are so good- sweet and mushy…lovely- they melt in my mouth. I went back and picked another paper coffee cup full this afternoon- always thinking of reuse opportunities. They grow everywhere out here- along the roads, in the ditches, down by the ocean.

So, this week’s Roots Song of the Week comes from John Reischman & the Jaybirds- a Trisha Gagnon composition entitled “Blackberry Bramble” featured on their excellent album, The Road West

As I learned…twice…there is nothing as unforgiving as a blackberry bramble. Tougher than a raspberry bush any day.


Now on Twitter @FervorCoulee

John Reischman’s Walk Along John mini-review and   Leave a comment

untitledthe story behind John Reischman & the Jaybirds.

Over at Fervor Coulee Bluegrass, I’ve added to my ongoing series of the stories behind bluegrass band names. This time up is outstanding mandolin player John Reischman’s story of how The Jaybirds got their name. You can reach Fervor Coulee Bluegrass HERE.

As always, thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. I appreciate the support, both online and off-. Donald

Lonesome Road Review’s Top 10 Bluegrass Albums of 2011   Leave a comment

A bit late but understandable being how busy editor Aaron Keith Harris is, today brings the release of the Lonesome Road Review’s top 10 bluegrass albums of the past year. I’m pleased to see that Aaron and my LRR colleague Larry Stephens agreed with me in several places, quite likely more than I expected, and I’ve written positively about each of the albums here or elsewhere with perhaps the exception of the #1 album, another that I really enjoyed and purchased both digitally and on vinyl. My only complaint about the Old Memories album is the rather spartan packaging- no gatefold, no liner notes, and the vinyl itself is not as hefty as other recently produced album offerings; still, a terrific album of music.

Each of my top 5 albums made the list and I hope that these placements help some of you make some purchasing decisions. None of the artists who made the list, with the exception of AKUS, is living the high life; most are folks with extensive experience in the bluegrass world, having spent years on the road and are well deserving of any recognition they receive. Of course, I’m absolutely thrilled to see three particular names on the Lonesome Road Review list: Dale Ann Bradley, John Reischman & the Jaybirds, and James Reams & the Barnstormers. See my Top 10 here and visit the LRR to see the complete 2011 Top 10:

As always, thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald


John Reischman & The Jaybirds- Vintage & Unique   Leave a comment

John Reischman & The Jaybirds Vintage & Unique (Corvus Records)

Over the past decade, John Reischman & the Jaybirds have become increasing popular in western North America. They are a great bluegrass band, always adding new material to their repertoire. Still, when exceptional mandolin players are mentioned, John Reischman’s name is often forgotten.

On Vintage and Unique, the quintet takes Bill Monroe’s “The First Whippoorwill” for a spin and reinvents “Shady Grove” and “Last Chance.”  Trisha Gagnon and Jim Nunally’s voices- which always sound wonderful together- are especially beautiful throughout this recording. The band delivers new songs alongside their reimagining of classic and long-forgotten tunes.

“The Cypress Hills” and “Consider Me Gone” are just waiting to be discovered, while “Cold Mountain (Cam Saan)” examines the Canadian railway experience of Chinese labourers. Every track, each break and harmonic moment are highlights within a flawless album.

(Originally published in the Red Deer Advocate, December 16 2011)