The Johnny Staats Project Wires & Wood (Giant)
Wires & Wood (Giant)
Reviewed by Kim Mellen, Fri., June 16, 2000
The Johnny Staats Project
Wires & Wood (Giant)A UPS driver by day and coon-hunter by night, Johnny Staat's virtuosity on the mandolin has swooned a millionaire into volunteering to be his roadie and a pet-store owner into dropping his business to be his manager. It seems that everyone from common strangers to country hat acts are drawn to work with this West Virginian. Five seconds into opener "Mandolin Meltdown," this pied picker will draw you in too -- and from there, it'll be all your wee brain can do to keep up with the notes as they flip and fly like the most nimble of gymnasts. As if providing a stroke of mercy for the easily winded, rest stops in the form of ballads ("Coal Tattoo," the title track, "Timbuktu") are interspersed throughout the Staats-penned compositions. Staats' nasally tenor doesn't approach the soul-tearing quality of the trad bluegrass greats, but it's sturdy and affecting nonetheless -- it's got the lonesome, if not the high. The instrumentals ("Legend of the Ghost Coon," "Escape from Taiwan," "Catch Me If You Can"), at once jazz, bluegrass, classical and none of the above, don't cut up anything that David Grisman and the like have not cut up before, but with breakneck, breathless talent like this, whether or not Staats is an innovator is hardly relevant. While many musicians express themselves through their instrument of choice, it's as if the very soul of the mandolin is expressed through Johnny Staats.