Doc Watson

Old Time Music at Clarence Ashley's, Vol. 1

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This comfortable and sometimes haunting set of old-timey music involves a patchwork of players from the Appalachians quilt. One of the most interesting parts of the extended booklet that is enclosed, and one of the parts that is least likely to strain one's eyes due to the miniscule typeface of the text, is a blow-up map of the area where Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, and North Carolina close in on each other. The participating players all hail from different parts of this region, the resulting diagram resembling those charts detectives put up on the wall in order to trace where a suspect might live in a certain part of a city. There are great performances here, such as "God's Gonna Ease My Troublin' Mind," in which the slightly strained vocals of Tom Ashley have a great appeal and the amusing bass vocal part from Doc Watson is just the right touch. Elsewhere, Watson's performances are a bit perfunctory, material he has continued to do for the decades subsequent to the release of this set, and with not much variation. "The Louisiana Earthquake" is an unaccompanied vocal by Stella Walsh Gilbert, the recording so intimate that one can hear a door being slammed at one point. This is one of two such performances on this set. The other, "The Haunted Woods," is an a cappella song story by Eva Ashley Moore which is not a good idea for a bedtime lullaby choice. Gaither Carlton, Watson's father in law, equips himself well on both banjo and fiddle, while the work of Fred Price on the latter instrument is never less than absorbing. Vocalist Tommy Moore pulls off a memorable "True Lovers," backed by the sympathetic guitar tickling of Watson and Clint Howard. Moore was only 13 when this was recorded, meaning his voice was in the process of changing. This is not to suggest this performance is similar to that of a boy soprano. Yet it sounds remarkably feminine yet as far away from the ethos of the slick country & western female star as a mansion in Nashville is from a rambling shack in the hills around Deep Gap. Howard also gets plenty of chance in the spotlight, bringing the set to a rousing conclusion with a "Pretty Little Pink" that is a direct hit of the old-time vibe, complete with clawhammer banjo from Jack Johnson and Moore getting his teen thimbles on a washboard. Ashley is absolutely charming on "Honey Babe," Price harmonizing on the melody line with his sweet fiddle.