Doc Watson, grandfather of the folk revival movement, has had a profound influence on American traditional music. Not only did he pioneer the playing of fiddle tunes on a flattop guitar, but through his incessant touring has brought traditional music to a larger audience. This Smithsonian Folkways release captures not only Doc Watson, but almost a dozen family members at the height of their power and has been deservingly hailed as a classic recording. Right from the opening track, "Old Groundhog," Watson and family send the listener on an amazing journey into the American musical past and present. Incidentally, their performance of "Old Groundhog" is certainly the equal of Bascom Lamar Lunsford's "I Wish I Was a Mole in the Ground," in terms of surreal country, capturing as it does race relations, commentary on shoe strings, as well directions for catching a groundhog. On "The House Carpenter," a weepy tale of that conflates religious and personal love, a haunting female voice sings almost off-key accompanied only by a fiddle that doubles on the melody. On the instrumental "Bonaparte's Retreat," Watson offers a droning, sea shanty-influenced version of this song staple of Mississippi river communities. Some of the family's best work is found in the spirituals scattered about the album. "When I Die" features a beautiful, uplifting three-part harmony, as does "The Lost Soul," which contains the wickedly abject refrain, "I'm paying now/the penalty." A fabulous record that's a must-listen for any serious fan of American music.
AllMusic Review by Brian Whitener