Various Artists

Legends of Country Guitar [Video]

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AllMusic Review by Cub Koda

This hour-long compilation from Stefan Grossman's Guitar Workshop weaves together some marvelous performance footage of Chet Atkins, Merle Travis, Mose Rager, and Doc Watson, showcasing the prodigious fingerpicking talents of all four gentlemen. Mose Rager -- the oldest of the four and the key disseminator of the fingerpicking style now known as "Travis picking" -- begins the program with a performance from 1962 of "I Am a Pilgrim." After a brief interview, Rager picks up a solid-body Fender Telecaster and picks a quick rag in the key of C, sounding just as wonderful. This is followed with eight performances by Chet Atkins (all of them pulled from either Pop Goes the Country or Austin City Limits) that encompass a time frame from 1975's gut-string rendition of "The Entertainer" to 1987's "Kentucky," with his renditions of "Black Mountain Rag" and "Until It's Time for You To Go" from 1978 being particularly compelling. Two performances from Merle Travis are next, both dating from 1979, when Merle appeared on the Canadian-based Nashville Swing television show. Accompanied by his son Thom Bresh, the two of them keep it loose and informal on a medley of Travis' hits and a song Merle recorded with Chet Atkins on their duet album called "Mutual Admiration." The segments featuring Doc Watson are from an appearance on Iowa Public Television in 1987. On John D. Loudermilk's "Windy and Warm," Doc employs a thumb pick for a bit of Travis picking, but the other four songs ("Freight Train Boogie," "I Don't Love Nobody," "Streamline Train" and "Travelin' Man") feature Watson's clean flat-picking style. Later footage (from 1984) of Mose Rager performing for the Everly Brothers -- playing electric and doing Bessie Smith's "Backwater Blues" and "Cannonball Rag" -- is next up, establishing a rough, informal atmosphere. This perfectly sets up three very loose performances of the home video variety by Merle Travis from 1981. Travis jokes and picks his way through off-the-cuff renditions of "Muskrat," "Dapper Dan From Dixieland" and "Guitar Rag," the last of which is performed as a duet with Thom Bresh, which is also prefaced by Travis' comments about how he learned his version from watching Mose Rager, a fitting closer for this marvelous video collection.