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Johnny Staats

Wires & Wood – 2000 (Giant)

Reviewed by John Lupton

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CDs by Johnny Staats

Bluegrass newcomer Johnny Staats drives for UPS by day, searches the forests of the South by night on the trail of the elusive raccoon ("Legend Of The Ghost Coon" is among the more ethereal tunes on this debut disc), and picks a mean mandolin when he gets the chance to sit in with his buddies - and it's a pretty substantial cast that he keeps company with him here: Jerry Douglas, Tim O'Brien, Sam Bush, Scott Vestal, John Cowan and Jim Hurst. In other words, the "A" List of the Nashville bluegrass crowd. Also on hand to lend vocal support are Sara Evans and Jon Randall.

The 11 tracks are smooth, clean, powerful and well-produced, highlighting not only Staats' own driving mandolin style, but also a vocal talent that proves a real winner on material like Billy Edd Wheeler's "Coal Tattoo" (one of the best versions around) and the title track. There are only four vocal cuts, and thisleads to the only mild criticism that might be thrown - the split should have been reversed. Aside from that small nitpick, Johnny Staats would seem to be among the more pleasant surprises of the year.