CD Review: John Reischman – New Time and Old Acoustic

Mandolinist John Reischman’s latest solo project, New Time and Old Acoustic, is a stunning collection of inspired acoustic music—twelve original compositions and two traditional tunes, all beautifully arranged and tastefully performed with help from an array of talented musicians.

Reischman is an accomplished performer whose career has spanned more than forty years: a veteran of the 1970s West Coast band The Good Ol’ Persons; a founding member of The Tony Rice Unit; and leader of the very entertaining John Reischman and the Jaybirds. He has received considerable acclaim for his three previously issued solo CDs, his Jazz/Latin releases with guitarist John Miller, and most recently his CD collaboration with Sharon Gilchrist and Scott Nygaard, The Harmonic Tone Revealers.

Reischman’s exquisite technique, tone and timing are as legendary as his 1924 Lloyd Loar F5 mandolin, whether he’s playing Bluegrass, swing, Brazilian choros, or Puerto Rican jibaro music.

I’ve listened to New Time and Old Acoustic at least 20 times in the past week, and I think it presents some of the best music Reischman has ever recorded. I rate it among the very best mandolin albums in my collection.

It’s not just the fine mandolin picking that makes this new release special. Reischman has long been one of the very best players around, but nowadays the world seems to be filling up with excellent mandolinists—at least a hundred of them can be seen and heard in videos on “Mandolin Mondays” at David Benedict’s YouTube channel. It takes more than expertise on the instrument to produce a good recording.

Equal to Reischman’s impeccable musicianship are his talents as composer, arranger and producer.

All of his compositions here, which range from Bluegrass to old-time to progressive, are the sorts of melodies that nestle in one’s memory. Fast or slow, complex or simple—every tune evinces a musical intelligence that is at once both fresh and mature.

Every tune is so brilliantly composed, and every track so artfully arranged and played, that it’s hard to pick a favorite. Here are some highlights:

As you would expect, Reischman’s mandolin playing perfectly suits the tune on every track, whether he’s introducing the melody or improvising a solo. Good examples, to my ear, are “Roscoe’s Ramble,” “The Old Steeple,” and “Cascadia.” But pay close attention to his rhythm work, as well, especially on “Horses of Dorrigo.”

Although Reischman, who is now in his mid-60s, has said recently that he doesn’t play quite up to the speeds he used to hit, there is nevertheless a good deal of energy on this album. But there’s also some beautiful slow music, the best of which is probably “Old Road to Kingham,” a spare, seven-minute progressive performance that incorporates relaxed, engaging solos by all three of the musicians who play on it: Reischman on mandolin, Todd Phillips on bass and Chris Eldridge on guitar.

Throughout, Reischman’s arrangements generously showcase the brilliance of each artist who accompanies him.

For some excellent five-string banjo, check out Jason Romero on “The Old Steeple,” Nick Hornbuckle on “Dandy Long Legs,” and Patrick Sauber on “Rosco’s Ramble,” the latter featuring the best use of D-tuners I’ve heard in years. Molly Tuttle and Allison DeGroot play dependably solid guitar and banjo solos, respectively, on “Suzanne’s Journey” and “Salt Spring,” while Molly’s brother Sullivan Tuttle’s guitar breaks on “The Coyote Trail” and “Sarafina” are remarkably tasteful, as are Mike Witcher’s dobro solos. The fiddling—from Trent Freeman, Greg Spatz and Alex Hargreaves—is superb throughout.

In my fifty years of playing mandolin and collecting LPs and CDs, only a handful of recordings immediately impressed me as much as New Time and Old Acoustic. For this quite particular mandolinist, the play-it-again-and-again factor is right up there with albums like Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Instrumentals (Decca-1965); Poor Richard’s Almanac by Sam Bush and Alan Munde (American Heritage-1969); Norman Blake and Red Rector (Country-1976); Back to Back by Jethro Burns and Tiny Moore (Kaleidoscope-1979); Climbing the Walls by Mike Compton and David Grier (Rounder-1991); and Bluegrass Guitar by Bryan Sutton, with Tim O’Brien on mandolin (Sugar Hill-2003). It’s that good.

New Time and Old Acoustic (Corvus Records CR026) is highly recommended by this reviewer and is available from the artist.

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