In a time of passing of many great musicians, one can be really thankful that ol’ Doc Watson still walks this earth. Watson, the bridge between folk, bluegrass, and “old-timey” music, is another artist whose career has received a boost from the popularity of the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack phenomenon (although, for some reason I cannot fathom, he’s not on it). The High Windy label is offering this three-disc set for the novice and fan alike, an interesting overview of both Doc’s music and legacy.
Assisted by multi-instrumentalist/folklorist Holt, the first two discs of this set comprise of an in-depth interview with Doc about his upbringing, his influences, and his career. Interspersed with solo and duet versions of some of the songs mentioned, it’s a mighty interesting listen. To hear Doc go from discussing the impact that artists like Merle Travis had on him, leading into an impromptu version of “Beaumont Rag,” or to hear his family’s connection to the “Tom Dooley” legend, and then into Doc’s take, provides the sort of reference that a simple “greatest hits” package would never provide. And Doc’s jaw-dropping harmonica and banjo playing are worth the package price alone. Mind you, after a couple of listens, one does tend to reach for the skip button, bypassing the commentary in order to hear the stripped down, well-recorded songs and their snippets.
The third disc is an excerpt from a concert featuring Watson and Holt, and to my mind, is the centerpiece of this set. The set is loosely parallel to the interview disc, with the artists performing songs from Watson’s past, utilizing uncommon instruments (such as a diddley-wah and a guitjo). But get Doc back to his guitar for his wonderful takes of “The Telephone Girl” and “Just To Ease My Worried Mind,” and you understand why Watson has influenced so many players. His voice seems stronger than of late, too, which adds another fantastic layer to such chestnuts as “Shady Grove.” I can only hope to sound this good when I’m nearing my eighties!
David Holt, who emcees the interview, plays extensively throughout the set, and co-produces, is an interesting sidekick. While I could do without his “gosh, shucks” demeanor (and his obviously canned introductions), there is no doubting his fantastic musicianship and singing. The raucous harmonica piece “Raincrow Bill / Cripple Creek,” which features Holt performing the best hambone solo I’ve ever heard, is a real highlight. His frighteningly good banjo work, like on disc three’s opening “Whiskey Before Breakfast / Ragtime Annie,” pushes Watson’s playing to his highest level. Truly a meeting of equals.
The sound quality, while not studio pristine, is good and clear. Mind you, on disc three, it often sounds like there’s seven or eight players, given the flurry of notes and the dexterity of both Watson and Holt; a little more definition would push this disc over the edge. And if two interview discs weren’t enough, the set is rounded out with a booklet with additional background info, more interview extracts, side interviews with friends and family, and loads of photos. Given the set’s $24.99 (U.S.) price, this set is a definite bargain to boot.
So, for any fan of roots music, you really can’t go wrong with Legacy. Jaw-dropping playing, great songs, fantastic stories, and more than enough yucks to keep the tempo up, all wrapped up in a beautiful package. And cheap to boot! Strongly recommended. Available at David Holt’s website.
(High Windy Audio, 2002)