John Reischman & The Jaybirds are among the most unique and distinctive string bands working on the bluegrass scene today. Part of that comes the many folk and old time influences that are apparent in their music, as opposed to the impact that pop and country have on much of mainstream bluegrass.
On their newly-released EP, On A Winter’s Night, they tackle 8 songs and tunes that relate to the Christmas season, taken from the rich traditions of the English and American folk cultures. Though song credits are not included in the CD package, there is a note indicating that many of the songs here were learned from The Seegers and their American Folk Songs For Christmas album and book from 1957.
They range from the British Child ballad Joseph And Mary (The Cherry Tree Carol) and the Appalachian fiddle tune Breaking Up Christmas, to the African-American spiritual I Heard From Heaven Today and the bluesy Oh Mary, Where Is Your Baby. All are presented in an understated fashion, letting the Christmas and wintertime themed lyrics and melodies take center stage.
Only a few of the tracks were recorded with a full band. Instead The Jaybirds break into smaller sub-ensembles to suit the sparse feeling of the accompaniment throughout.
Reischman is a mandolinist with few peers, known initially for his work with The Tony Rice Unit when they were based on the west coast, though he is featured only sparsely on this collection. Two of the eight tracks are instrumentals, the aforementioned Breaking Up Christmas, and a lovely tune called Christmas Eve. Greg Spatz on fiddle, Nick Hornbuckle on banjo, and Jim Nunally on guitar also provide appropriate and minimalistic contributions.
Bassist/vocalist Trisha Gagnon stands out as she does on all the Jaybirds recordings with her clear and passionate voice. Nunally sings as well, offering his take on A Roving On A Winter’s Night, when many will recognize from Doc Watson’s classic version.
If you’re hunting for something soothing for your Christmas Eve music, On A Winter’s Night may be just the thing.