Is their grass greener? 

John Reischman and the Jaybirds return

Masterful monsters on their instruments who cite Jimi Hendrix, Kenny Baker, Django Reinhardt, Bill Monroe and The Police as influences ought to literally storm into Missoula for their March 20 show at the Crystal Theatre, right? If you can imagine a soft-spoken, meticulous, middle-aged storm, then you’ll have an accurate picture of John Reischman and the Jaybirds. The British Columbia-based bluegrass act returns this week to Montana, where mandolinist Reischman says the band has gotten “great response” in the past.

The Jaybirds are touring in support of their third album, The Road West. Geographically the album begins in the Southeast with two traditional numbers and takes the listener on a journey from Appalachia to British Columbia via obscure Old Time (but bluegrassified and polished) tunes, original material and a couple of songs familiar to Americanaphiles. Reischman named the last track on the record “Crowberry” after a plant native to B.C. “Traditional songs refer to Southern flora and fauna. I wanted to write about the crowberry because it sounds old-timey but it’s from the Pacific Northwest,” Reischman says from his home in Vancouver.

“Crowberry” indeed does sound old-timey. The spry instrumental features the picking prowess of each individual Jaybird, each with an impressive musical resumé. Greg Spatz’s fiddle kept him sane during his years attending the University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop. Banjo player Nick Hornbuckle played bass in the Seattle punk/metal/pop/grunge band Son of Man. Trisha Gangon, who holds down the bass and sings, collaborates with her sister in a band called Tumbleweed. Their music appeared in the film Leaving Normal. Guitarist Jim Nunally contributed the guitar tracks to the 1995 Peanuts special Snoopy’s Reunion, wherein Snoopy reunites with his siblings (played by acoustic giants Todd Phillips, Mike Marshall and Tony Furtado) and forms a bluegrass band. Reischman, too, had a life before the Jaybirds—as a member of the Tony Rice Unit in the 1980s.

As to whether Reischman and the Jaybirds can pass their Pacific Northwestern take on bluegrass for the bona fide article, Reischman equivocates: “Reviewers in the South say our sound is kind of folky. Is it because we don’t have Southern accents?” So the Jaybirds lack Southern accents—the proof is in the picking, eh?

John Reischman and the Jaybirds celebrate the return of spring and the release of The Road West Sunday, March 20, at the Crystal Theatre. The concert is presented by the Missoula Folklore Society. Tickets cost $14/advance, $16/door, with a $2 discount for MFS members. Tickets available at Rockin Rudy’s. Call 880-9844 for info.

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