Walk Along John is John Reischman’s first solo instrumental album in thirteen years, and it’s a triumphant return to form. It’s also a celebration of his seminal influence in the world of bluegrass and “new acoustic music,” a movement he contributed to with Tony Rice in the 1980s. A new generation of musicians has now grown up playing his tunes at jams and obsessing over his recordings.
Chris Thile of The Punch Brothers joins John on the opening tune “Itzbin Reel,” an early composition of John’s that Chris has been playing since the age of 8. Eli West, from Cahalen Morrison & Eli West, listened endlessly to John’s recordings while studying in college and guests on the album as well. Other next generation star players on the album include Sam Grisman and Mike Barnett from the young grasscore band The Deadly Gentlemen, and Canadian clawhammer banjo king Chris Coole.
Old friends return as well, from renowned old-time fiddler Bruce Molsky to innovative banjo genius Tony Trischka and star bluegrass guitarist Kenny Smith, not to mention members of John’s band The Jaybirds. But the real focus of the album is John’s musicianship, both as an artist and as a composer. His compositions, many of which have become jamming standards, run the gamut from the old-timey “Little Pine Siskin” to the bluesy (in the Dock Boggs sense) “Gold Mountain Blues,” the eerily modal “Ice on the Dogwater,” the blazing Bill Monroe tribute tune “Joe Ahr’s Dream,” and the softly gentle waltzes “Anisa’s Lullaby” and “A Prairie Jewel.” John’s compositions shine here because he has the subtle ability to draw out the true heart of the melody. He does this through his lifelong obsession with obtaining the purest tones from his mandolin playing. It’s the same quest that drove Monroe to the roots of the music looking for “ancient tones,” and it’s a quest shared by other great mandolinists. Coupled with his renowned sense of musical taste, John Reischman is able to redefine the sound of bluegrass mandolin without ever veering away from the traditions at its core.