For anyone who may have forgotten the amazing dexterity and talent Johnny Staats brings to the mandolin, let this be a reminder. It may not be apparent in the first track “Never Mind The Mule,” a bluesy medium-tempo stomp about driving his big brown truck for UPS, and it may not be apparent in the first half of the next tune “Time Moves On,” but at that point Staats lets go with a string of breathtaking triplets that seem to ripple on and on. Then you’ll remember—guaranteed.
He and his band, currently including the equal-to-the-challenge talents of fiddler Ray Gossin, banjoist Butch Osborne, bassist Roger Bissell, and guitarist Davey Vaughn, follow those with equally impressive romps through a fleet of original instrumentals “Cuz’in Barry And The Chemical Valley Boys,” “Odie’s Last Stand,” and “Sneak’n Deacon,” and then with the lilting blend of the classical and Celtic “Hannah’s Lullaby.” Interestingly on “Rider,” the album’s lone cover and a tune normally given to excess, Staats plays it conservatively. His solo is no less stocked with impressive ideas, but as are all the other instruments, is confined to a single chorus. Each person gets in, has a pointed say, and gets out.
With the exception of “Never Mind The Mule” (a jaundiced look at the working grind), the vocal originals have a philosophical bent. The title tune (written with and dedicated to his late father) is obviously of that approach, but so too is the slow, forceful “Big Coal River” (written with Billy Edd Wheeler) with its likening of man’s need to keep looking for tomorrow to that of a river’s flowing. The hard-driving gospel of “When I Leave This World” and the watercolor ode to lost love in “Not Holding Your Hand” also follow that pensive approach, leaving us thinking and, as with this album as a whole, with some good music. (Roger Bissell, 52825 Rice Run Rd., Coolville, OH 45723.)BW