John Reischman & The Jaybirds offer stellar bluegrass

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Since forming almost 20 years ago, John Reischman & The Jaybirds have honed their own style of bluegrass, wedding the genre’s characteristic rapid-fire solos and stacked vocal harmonies with an old-time, almost gentle, touch.

When the Jaybirds play at The Palms Playhouse (13 Main St. in Winters) on Thursday, March 8, the quintet will bring a new guitarist and a new album, “On That Other Green Shore.” The concert will start at 8 p.m.

When bandleader Reischman plays, his fingers fly up and down his Lloyd Loar-made Gibson mandolin in a blur, creating streams of notes. Yet his playing never feels rushed. He’s a master of tone, bringing sweetness to the virtuosic licks.

Reischman got his start playing with the groundbreaking Tony Rice Unit in the 1970s, a group credited with kick-starting the “new acoustic music” branch of bluegrass music. A stint in ground-breaking Bay Area band the Good Ol’ Persons followed in the 1980s. He most recently played at The Palms as part of the backing band for the annual California Banjo Extravaganza.

The California-bred, Canada-based musician has won a Grammy and been nominated for a Juno. His most recent solo release is “Walk Along John.”

When Reischman assembled the Jaybirds in the 1990s, he sought musicians who could deliver the mix of bluegrass, old-time and contemporary influences he envisioned. The sound Reischman’s after requires a tricky balance of forthright solos and supportive playing. There’s ample room for excellence, but not for grand-standing.

“It’s a band of really thoughtful people who’re really paying attention,” said fiddler Greg Spatz in a 2014 documentary by John Lawless. Singer and bassist Trisha Gagnon added that the players’ styles are “really complimentary” to each other.

In concert, the musicians array themselves in a loose semi-circle, attuned to each others’ cues and weaving around a center vocal mic.

Spatz’s fiddle solos are by turns joyful, fiery and plaintive. Nick Hornbuckle employs clawhammer and Scruggs-style playing, leaning in for driving banjo breaks and supplying delicate backing lines, while bassist Trisha Gagnon provides the instrumental foundation as well as many of the lead vocals.

Patrick Sauber joined the band on guitar and vocals last year after original guitarist Jim Nunally left to concentrate on other projects. A multi-instrumentalist, Sauber also plays banjo in Laurie Lewis and The Right Hands and Loafer’s Glory as well as Cajun button accordion and mandolin in other outfits, and has recorded with Doc Watson, Herb Pedersen, Weird Al Yankovic, The Limeliters, Dirk Powell and others.

At the invitation of director Christopher Guest, Sauber appeared in the folk music satire “A Mighty Wind,” playing the banjo player in The New Main Street Singers in the movie as well as on the soundtrack and resulting tour.

The Jaybirds’ seventh album, “On That Other Green Shore,” features original and traditional songs and instrumentals plus a bluegrass version of the Beatles’ “Two of Us” that showcases the group’s warm vocal harmonies.

Tickets for John Reischman & The Jaybirds’ Thursday March 8 show are $20 and are available online via The Palms’ website and through Eventbrite, as well as at Pacific Ace Hardware in Winters, Armadillo Music in Davis, Davids’ Broken Note in Woodland and at the door if the show is not sold out.

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