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.