Walk Along John
5 stars (out of 5)
By Donald Teplyske
Not given to self-promotion flash, John Reischman allows his impressive picking do his speaking for him.
On the instrumental Walk Along John, this is certainly the case: fourteen tunes featuring various combinations of bands and duos, mostly of original composition with a small handful of trad tunes, presented as a cohesive and eminently listenable bluegrass-focused release.
After five outstanding album releases with The Jaybirds, as well as an eclectic left turn with John Miller on Bumpy Road, Reischman follows up 1999′s beautiful Up In the Woods. Walk Along John is a full-fledged bluegrass mandolin extravaganza in which Reischman is joined by sympathetic, complementary souls including Chris Thile (on the rock solid, 1929 Loar mandolin-duet “Itzbin Reel,” an idyllic tune resurrected from an early Good Ol’ Persons album), Eli West, Kenny Smith, and Chris Coole.
The Jaybirds lend their fingers to “The Deadly Fox,” a tune that features each musicians to great effect; listening to Nick Hornbuckle’s banjo break immediately calls forth a smile of admiration while the warmth of the entire production is pleasing. When Greg Spatz takes a fiddle break three-quarters of the way in, one cements opinion that “The Deadly Fox” is destined to be one of the great bluegrass cuts of the year. The ensemble, seemingly effortlessly, play off each other with precision borne of countless hours of familiarity.
Reischman is obviously a master of bluegrass mandolin, his concept of tone and sense of melody earning praise from peers including Thile and David Grisman. While some have criticized his playing and music as being too highbrow for bluegrass folks, such seems folly when faced with “Little Pine Siskin” and “Indian Arm,” tunes that are as playful as they are artful, cemented in a tradition of adventure and exploration. A brief deconstructed interpretation of “Little Maggie” is just one of many examples of Reischman’s ability to honor the roots of his music while confidently advancing the art.
For this listener, the album’s highlight is “Joe Ahr’s Dream,” a scorching Monroe-spirited tune featuring Tony Trischka. However, each cut brings something that all should find appealing. Two versions of “Side By Each,” one a duet with Bruce Molsky, the other featuring a full band, provides insight into the options available to one with a musical brain as exceptional as that Reischman most assuredly possesses.
To suggest Walk Along John should be considered one of the great releases of 2013 may be taken as hyperbole, but only by those who haven’t allowed this magnificent and flawless recording to sweep them along on a journey spectacular.