Doc Watson

Americana Master Series: Best of Doc Watson

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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.

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