John Reischman’s sound on the mandolin has always been a striking one, crystalline and clear, like a rushing stream. He has said this sparkling tone comes from the slanted angle he holds his pick at and the naturally full resonance of his Gibson Lloyd Loar. Hearing his latest album, New Time & Old Acoustic, I felt like I was listening to the capstone to his long career and unique sound.
The album is made up of Reischman compositions, performed in a variety of ensembles alongside star musicians like Quinn Bachard, Alison de Groot, Chris Eldridge and Molly Tuttle. Some songs, like “The Coyote Trail” and “Sarafina,” tread on the more mellow side, with soft interplay within the group. Others, like jam session favorite “Salt Spring” and “Suzanne’s Journey,” bounce along with verve. Reischman doesn’t push to the forefront of every track, the arrangements layer in the instruments smoothly. But when he dives into a solo or takes lead on a melody, each phrase feels subtly constructed and handled with care. For all of the heavy hitters involved, it never approaches the shredding tendencies of a supergroup album.
As the title implies, the tunes span a variety of styles: a few strongly resemble traditional old time and Irish melodies while others approach more progressive, modal harmonies. A handful of songs even feature Reischman on a Bambino octave mandolin. While this diversity isn’t surprising, Reischman is well known for his playing on Tony Rice’s adventurous jazz albums, it makes for a compelling listen. Often, the whole recording feels like a very complete look back at the innovations he brings to the sound of contemporary acoustic music and what traditions he has carried into the present day.
Today, echoes of his style abound in younger players. From Sierra Hull’s fast and fleet attack to Andrew Marlin’s placid picking, its integration into the common vocabulary is easily discernable. Maybe the best recommendation I have for the record is, track by track, it quietly reminds the listener of where that sound came from.