The greatest recordings are often ones that include periods of complete rejection in their histories. These tapes were made in 1964 but not made available to the public until more than a dozen years later, when the music was finally released in America and the United Kingdom by Rounder and Topic, respectively. The Watson in question is indeed Doc Watson, and while this huge presence in American folk music dominates the proceedings like the Jolly Green Giant looking out over the vegetable fields, this album completely stands out from that artist's discography. Listeners who find Doc Watson's recordings a trifle on the slick side will want to give this collection a listen. While the man has become a highly acclaimed international performer and has graced the most important stages in the world, he comes from a tradition of music that was originally made at home for the entertainment of family and neighbors. A great old-time fiddler may have enjoyed being the hero of his county, but he did not aspire to play at Carnegie Hall or do solo sellout nights at a slick nightclub such as the Bottom Line. Performing music in such venues inevitably is the domain of highly polished entertainers who can hold large audiences in the palms of their hands, giving the types of performances that tend to be several worlds away from those featured here. Members of the extended Watson Family -- father in law, distant cousin, what have you -- get involved here in a series of solos and small groupings, the recorded sound as rough as a chunk of whittling wood and the tunings sometimes even rougher. It is the real thing, and an album that by itself could serve as a fine introduction in every way to the charming world of old-time music, including diverse examples of its harmonic and melodic structures as well as the typical subject matter of songs such as "I Heard My Mother Weeping." All the instruments associated with this genre are here in full force, including banjo, fiddle, guitar, and the unaccompanied vocal. There are several performances that are incredibly powerful, particularly "Am I Born to Die?," sung by Doc Watson accompanied only by Gaither Carlton on fiddle.
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AllMusic Review by Eugene Chadbourne