Internationally renowned for his unique flatpicking guitar style, Doc Watson is one of the most prolific and influential guitarists of the 20th century. In country music, only Chet Atkins and Merle Travis are even in his league. Despite his long and fruitful career, the master from Deep Gap, North Carolina shows no signs of slowing down.
Watson’s latest release pairs him with his grandson Richard and long-time sideman T. Michael Coleman on a set of classic folk and country tunes, including Bob Wills’ immortal “Milk Cow Blues” and “House of the Rising Sun.” Watson’s playing and singing are, as always, in fine form and Third Generation Blues is a welcome return to his “power trio” sound of two guitars and bass. Meanwhile, anyone who has ever even thought about playing the guitar will be all over the reissue of the 1980 summit of the greats, Doc Watson and Chet Atkins. Watson and Atkins both hail from Appalachia and studied at the feet of the Kentucky master, Merle Travis. Despite these similarities, Watson and Atkins are no carbon copies of each other—Watson’s playing is more rooted in bluegrass and he is an equally fine vocalist and harmonica player. You definitely don’t want to hear Atkins sing, but his smooth, almost-jazzy playing is so intricate, it often sounds like a guitar quartet.
For newcomers to Watson, or those fans who want a single handy compilation, I can think of few better places to start than with Vanguard’s new 23 song collection. Classics forever associated with Watson are here in spades (“Tennessee Stud” and “Tom Dooley” are a couple), plus several tracks recorded with his late, great son Merle Watson, including “Muskrat” and “Rising Sun Blues.” Given the recent popularity of alternative country, there’s never been a better time to discover, or rediscover as the case may be, the music of this national treasure.