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Folk/Americana - Released May 29, 2020 | Smithsonian Folkways Recordings

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Folk/Americana - Released January 1, 2013 | Concord Sugar Hill

Arthel "Doc" Watson was nearly 40 years old and had been playing guitar and banjo most of his life when he was discovered as part of the folk music revival of the early '60s; Watson was a remarkably gifted instrumentalist who had a nearly encyclopedic knowledge of traditional folk and country songs, and he became a cornerstone artist on the folk music scene, as he recorded and toured regularly until his death in 2012. A massive influence on such pickers as Vince Gill, Ricky Skaggs, and Clarence White, Watson left behind a massive body of work, and The Definitive Doc Watson is a two-disc set that brings together highlights from his recordings for Vanguard and Sugar Hill Records. While this means that a large portion of Watson's catalog is left unrepresented, Vanguard and Sugar Hill happen to be two of the labels with which Watson had the longest and most fruitful relationship, so this gives the set a broader focus than one might imagine. And while this set is a bit short of truly being "definitive" -- it would take a cross-licensed box set to truly fit that description -- there's plenty of great music here, and these 34 tracks show off Watson's warm, rich, unaffected vocals, superlative flat-picked guitar, and impressive banjo work to excellent advantage. A collection of essential songs performed by a master of the form, The Definitive Doc Watson is a fine introduction to a giant of American folk music, and a strong if somewhat limited sampler of his recording career. © Mark Deming /TiVo
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Rock - Released January 1, 2005 | Vanguard Records

Watson's arrival on the folk scene of the '60s was a major event in American music, due mostly to his appearance at the 1963 Newport Folk Festival and the release of this self-titled album the following year. Not only did it revolutionize folk guitar picking, but it set the standard for the rest of his career with its mix of old-timey numbers, blues, gospel, and adapted fiddle tunes. The album is incredibly varied, from the stark, banjo-driven "Country Blues" to the humorous "Intoxicated Rat," and many of these songs became Watson standards, especially his signature song "Black Mountain Rag." His incredible flat-picking skills may have been what initially wowed his audiences, but it was Watson's complete mastery of the folk idiom that assured his lasting popularity. © Jim Smith /TiVo
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Folk/Americana - Released January 1, 1990 | Vanguard Records

Southbound was a pivotal record for Doc Watson. Upon its 1966 release, it demonstrated that Watson was capable of more than just dazzling interpretations of folk songs, but that he could also write excellent original material and rework new country songs in a fascinating manner. Southbound also marked the recorded debut of Merle Watson, Doc's astonishingly talented son. © Thom Owens /TiVo
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Folk/Americana - Released January 1, 1999 | Sugar Hill Records

Nobody plays a flat-top guitar quite like the versatile Doc Watson, and with Third Generation Blues, Watson teams with his grandson Richard to present a collection of 14 exquisite blues, country-folk, and gospel covers, each one as unique as a fingerprint. They perform the tunes on guitar, accompanied only by T. Michael Coleman on bass. From the down-home blues of Bubba White's "Honey Please Don't Go" and the country blues of Jimmie Rodgers' "Train Whistle Blues," to the up-tempo rendering of the classic "House of the Rising Sun," the Watsons again provide the smooth vocals and seamless guitar work for which both men have become known and respected. "If I Were a Carpenter" and "Milk Cow Blues" are both incredible, and the duet dishes up the gospel music with a huge dose of spirit, from "Uncloudy Day" to "Precious Lord Take My Hand," and the folk music fires burn brightly on "Gypsy Davey" and "Moody River." The blues make their way around again with "Columbus Stockade Blues" and "Walk on Boy," and the Watsons' reading of "Summertime (And the Living Is Easy)" is simply intense. There has always been something just plain enjoyable about Doc -- perhaps it is his easygoing demeanor or his undeniably easy-to-digest vocal style, or maybe it's the fact that he's one of the hottest flatpickers this side of Chet Atkins. Third Generation Blues offers prime examples of all of these traits, accompanied by the astounding picking of Richard to create an album that sets itself apart from the rest as a diamond in the rough. This is a collection of some of the most loved blues, gospel, and folk tunes of the 20th century, performed by some of the best minstrels of the century. © Michael B. Smith /TiVo
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Folk/Americana - Released January 1, 1999 | Vanguard Records

Boasting 23 tracks (three unreleased) culled from six of Watson's classic Vanguard albums, The Best of Doc Watson 1964-1968 is a great summing up of the music he made during that period and a perfect testament to his standing as a true American musical treasure. Showcasing the amazing depth of ability that Watson has made his trademark, this collection covers all the bases, including outstanding examples of his virtuosic flat-picking guitar work in great instrumentals like "Dill Pickle Rag," "Windy and Warm" and the amazingly dexterous "Beaumont Rag." A perfect synthesis of country, blues and folk, Watson bounces from haunting murder ballads like "Omie Wise" and the solemn "Tom Dooley" to lighthearted numbers like "Muskrat" and "Intoxicated Rat." Faithful covers of Jimmie Rodgers' "My Rough and Rowdy Ways" and the Carter Family's "The Cyclone of Ryecov" show the reverence with which Watson tackles the work of the masters who have inspired his music. No fan of flat-top guitar picking should be without this one in their collection. © Matt Fink /TiVo
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Folk/Americana - Released January 1, 1990 | Vanguard Records

The Essential Doc Watson includes 26 tracks of Watson in his most traditional, folksy mode, with his stunning flat-picking guitar technique and warm, unadorned singing in fine form. The album's first half focuses on studio sessions -- some solo, some with accompaniment -- while the second half is taken from Watson's mid-'60s Newport Folk Festival appearances. The performances throughout are top-notch. Watson's flawlessly fluid guitar work is a wonder (most notably on instrumentals like "Beaumont Rag"), and he sounds as at ease singing a cappella ("Down in the Valley to Pray") as he does backed by additional musicians ("The Train That Carried My Girl from Town"). The program includes traditional songs ("Tom Dooley" and "Little Omie Wise"), as well as tunes by Jimmy Rodgers ("I Was a Stranger") and Dock Boggs ("Country Blues"), with Watson bringing each song to life with his incisive, sincere renditions. As a one-stop, economical introduction to this folk legend, The Essential Doc Watson is hard to beat. © Rovi Staff /TiVo
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Folk/Americana - Released January 1, 1990 | Vanguard Records

One of Doc Watson's finest later records, Doc Watson on Stage is a virtual travelogue of his entire career in one record, almost a greatest-hits record, live. Assisted by Merle Watson, the program flows from lightning fast hoedowns such as "Brown's Ferry Blues," where Watson picks lightning fast with a dexterity that is almost unbelievable. His feel and command of the instrument is truly incredible. "Open Up Them Pearly Gates for Me" has a similar effect. There are also numerous stories and patter (mostly about the songs) in between the cuts, and it guides you through the performance. Watson also shines on this album as well, especially his exquisite fingerpicking on "Banks of the Ohio." A timeless slice from one of the fathers of modern country music. © Matthew Greenwald /TiVo
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Country - Released January 1, 2000 | Sugar Hill Records

On first listen, this short 16-track collection seems like it has to be missing a great deal, but on further inspection, one finds that it really isn't. Of course, it omits large chunks of Watson's instrumental albums, but then, there weren't many of those to begin with. That said, what Foundation presents is a good variety that spans most of his career and includes many of his best traditional transcriptions ("Black Mountain Rag"), as well as some of his best originals ("Nashville Pickin'"). The set is nicely remastered as well, and although one misses Watson's vocals from time to time, this is a very pleasant listening experience. © Jim Smith /TiVo
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Country - Released February 9, 2018 | Yep Roc Records

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In the mid-'60s, Doc Watson rose from relative obscurity to become one of the leading lights of American folk music, displaying a dazzling flatpicking technique on the guitar and an encyclopedic knowledge of old-timey and traditional music. Watson was just starting to make a name for himself as a solo act (and was a few months away from his breakthrough performance at the Newport Folk Festival) when, in February 1963, he played Boston's venerable folk music venue Club 47, where he quickly became a favorite of the New England cognoscenti. A local music fan, Michael Eisenstadt, brought a professional-grade tape recorder to the show, and 55 years later, the show has been given a commercial release by Yep Roc Records as Live at Club 47. The audio is remarkably crisp and clear despite being recorded with a single microphone, and it captures Watson in splendid form. It should surprise no one that Watson was picking up a storm on guitar this evening, as well as showing he was a sure hand on banjo and autoharp. But Live at Club 47 is a vivid reminder of how personable and engaging Watson could be performing in front of an audience. Playing in a small room, Watson's simple but expressive vocals are superb, finding humor and drama in these songs, which he delivers with genuine warmth and sincerity. If there are moments when Watson seems to be playing up his hillbilly roots for the sake of the Big City audience, there's no arguing that he knew how to work a crowd and get an honest laugh. Watson seems fully engaged and having a great time on Live at Club 47, and the set list is a treasure trove of essential American folk tunes (including a few he never got around to recording in the studio). Live at Club 47 doesn't reveal much that's unknown about the artistry of Doc Watson, but the good humor and intimacy of this performance are irresistible, and it's as pleasing a document of Doc Watson in concert as you could ask for. © Mark Deming /TiVo
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Folk/Americana - Released January 1, 1983 | Flying Fish

Like Pickin' the Blues, Guitar Album features Doc and Merle Watson supported by a small band and playing blues. Both guitarists play with deft, nimble grace, spinning out surprisingly hard-edged lines that are simultaneously fluid and gritty. © Thom Owens /TiVo
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Folk/Americana - Released January 1, 1995 | Sugar Hill Records

While Doc Watson made his reputation as an acoustic guitarist and bluegrass flat picker, the album title Docabilly correctly implies there's another kind of music here. Helped by some hotshot players, including Marty Stuart and Duane Eddy, this album delivers some joyous, rollicking rockabilly, mixing early rock & roll classics with some country comforts. Although his singing strains a bit on the slow numbers, this American treasure comes through in grand style on the upbeat tunes. "That's Why I Love You Like I Do," "Heartbreak Hotel," and "Shake, Rattle & Roll" are particularly good. © Mark Allan /TiVo
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Country - Released January 1, 2008 | Sugar Hill Records

A true American treasure, Doc Watson recorded regularly for Barry Poss' Sugar Hill Records beginning in the late '70s (Watson was still working with the label as recently as 2006 when he released an album with guitarist Bryan Sutton), and this delightful 14-track collection cherry-picks some of the best tracks from that long and fruitful association. Watson brings a comfortable joy and ease to every tune he touches, and his warm, easy singing style (Watson's vocals sound eerily like Jack Teagarden's, if Teagarden had been born in North Carolina instead of Texas and had played guitar instead of trombone and had devoted his career to traditional music instead of jazz) and his simply stunning acoustic guitar playing are all delivered with such easy, real charm that each of his albums makes one feel as if Doc himself were sitting on the back porch with a guitar and gently picking his way through the American songbook. And that's exactly what it feels like here, with Watson tackling bluegrass, Appalachian string band reels, ancient modal banjo tunes, Western swing, gospel, and acoustic honky tonk with a casual, natural warmth that makes all of these different American song styles seem like they're part of the same glorious fabric, which, of course, they are. It's fruitless to pick highlights from this set since Watson has never once in his life given a bad performance, but his solo banjo version of Dock Boggs' eerie, wobbly "Country Blues" is particularly striking, as is the banjo-and-guitar piece "Bright Sunny South" and the stirring "What Does the Deep Sea Say," which features an all-star band of Watson on guitar and vocals, Alan O'Bryant adding background harmonies, Béla Fleck on banjo, Sam Bush on mandolin, Mark O'Connor on fiddle, and T. Michael Coleman on bass. Any of Watson's many Sugar Hill albums is well worth checking out on its own, but this succinct sampler of some of the wonderful moments from those albums is proof of how Watson makes everything he touches fit into his personal and seamless tour of American folk music in all of its interconnected shapes and forms. © Steve Leggett /TiVo
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Country - Released December 20, 2017 | HHO

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Folk/Americana - Released January 1, 2003 | Sugar Hill Records

Trouble in Mind makes an interesting argument: Doc Watson, long deified in bluegrass and traditional folk circles, is also a fine country blues player. Perhaps the misunderstanding comes from the long tradition of dividing blues and folk players into different genres, or the mistaken assumption that black musicians (who often played the blues) didn't influence white musicians (who usually played folk). Watson, as this collection shows, included pieces like "Country Blues" at the very beginning of his career in 1964. For the next 34 years he repeatedly returned to the blues well, drawing on favorites like "Worried Blues," "Never No More Blues," and "Memphis Blues." Watson's eclectic approach uses a variety of instruments to render these traditional and public domain pieces fresh. On "Rain Crow Bill" he plays solo harmonica; on "White House Blues" he plays banjo. Most of the arrangements are simple, often augmented by his son Merle Watson on a second guitar or banjo. Another reason that many have never identified Watson as a blues player also has something to do with his guitar style. His fingerpicking method has more in common with the Piedmont style of John Hurt than the more familiar Delta style of Robert Johnson. The less-bluesy Piedmont style, in fact, seems much closer to folk. Trouble in Mind makes a convincing argument for Watson's ability as a purveyor of the blues. In its fine selection of songs and well-executed performances, though, the collection is no different than other Watson collections: good music, regardless of genre, is good music. © Ronnie Lankford, Jr. /TiVo
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Folk/Americana - Released January 1, 1997 | Vanguard Records

Merle Watson's debut with father Doc Watson was recorded shortly after they performed their first concerts together in California, and it shows the duo's musical partnership already in full flower, an incredible fact considering that Merle had only been picking guitar for eight months! The best songs here turned up on later Vanguard best-ofs, but there's a fair amount of greatness in the astonishing instrumental medley "Fiddler's Dram/Whistling Rufus/Ragtime Annie" and "Little Stream of Whiskey," an old Irish drinking song transformed into a hobo ballad with a bouncy fingerpicked melody. Perhaps most astonishing is the solo harmonica workout "Mama Blues," in which the elder Watson imitates the sound of a child crying, showing off yet another facet of his incredible musical skill. © Jim Smith /TiVo
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Folk/Americana - Released January 1, 1996 | Vanguard Records

Doc Watson's fourth Vanguard album, Home Again! is his most affecting folk-style record, with unexpectedly warm vocals matched to the quiet virtuosity of his playing. With only a couple of instrumentals on this 14-song collection, the rest features Watson performing lively, achingly beautiful renditions of popular folk standards ("Katie Morey," "Georgie," "Froggie Went A-Courtin'," "Matty Groves"). There isn't a weak number here, although highlights include the haunting "Winter's Night," and "The F.F.V.," the latter a grim but lively song in memory of a train wreck and a dead engineer. All are played with very imposing dexterity by Watson, joined by his son Merle and Russ Savakus on upright bass. This album was a great showcase for Watson's voice -- vaguely similar to but rougher-hewn than Burl Ives -- which is often overlooked in the aura of his playing. © Bruce Eder /TiVo
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Folk/Americana - Released January 1, 1996 | Vanguard Records

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Folk/Americana - Released January 1, 1993 | Sugar Hill Records

On this album, Watson is joined by such guest artists as Sam Bush and Mark O'Connor. © All Music Guide /TiVo
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Folk/Americana - Released January 1, 1995 | Vanguard Records

Four-CD, 64-song collection drawn principally from Doc's Vanguard releases of the 1960s and early 1970s (tapped his solo LPs and performances at the 1963 and 1964 Newport Folk Festival). This was Doc's best period recording-wise, and certainly you couldn't hope for a better document of his virtuosity, as the guitarist covers all manner of American folk and blues styles over the course of the set. It's too much, however, for listeners who aren't big fans; Vanguard's Essential Doc Watson is a more economical survey. If you are a big fan, though, you'll be especially interested in the 16 previously unreleased performances. Comprising the whole of disc four, these are mostly taken from live duets with Merle Travis or Doc's son, Merle Watson. © Richie Unterberger /TiVo