Doc Watson is such an icon of American music and the country and bluegrass fields that it would be impossible to point to one recording and pin down his best work. This collection though, does a nice job of picking some of his finest effort, not only as a guitarist, but as a singer and arranger of songs.
While not really viewed as a bluesman, cuts like “My Little Woman, You’re So Sweet” make a strong argument that he fits in with the greats of the genre; it’s just him and a 12-string. And it works well. Doc, his late son, Merle, on guitar, and Marty Stuart on mandolin tear it up on “Watson’s Blues,” a bluegrass instrumental that’s a perfect showcase for both guitarists flatpicking skills and Stuart’s underrated mandolin playing. While most of these cuts include Doc’s vocals (which contain about as much character as could be placed over a microphone), there is one other notable instrumental – “Whiskey Before Breakfast.” Just Doc and Bryan Sutton, it’s a plain ol’ pickin’ party.
The most important element in the 14 songs here is their reach. Watson may not be regarded an innovator, but as this record shows he knows the foundations of virtually every kind of American music. It’s a treasure trove of great playing from Doc and and others, from Bela Fleck to Jerry Douglas.
This article originally appeared in VG’s Nov. ’08 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.