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[Off The Record]
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Doc Watson

The guitarist and singer from the North Carolina mountains was already 38 and a monumental talent when he made his solo debut at the pioneering New York City folk club. These 14 well-recorded live numbers are culled from a four-week run from the end of 1962 into early ’63. And they’re almost flawless performances of blues, rags, and hand-me-downs from Watson’s community. There’s the breakneck-paced nursery rhyme "Sing Song Kitty," where Watson and guest John Herald generate good-natured sparks as they speed their six-strings along. There’s Watson’s own arrangements of "St. Louis Blues" and "Milk Cow Blues" — tunes popular in his childhood. And, of course, the stories of murder and tragedy that are part of mountain music’s dark and beautiful soul. (After all, this is a genre sprung from lives spent in poverty and backbreaking labor.) The best are "Little Sadie," where Watson assumes the role of a cold-blooded killer, and "The Dream of the Miner’s Child," in which a little girl foresees her father’s horrible death in a mine fire — in grisly detail. Of course, even these songs are deeply beautiful thanks to the solid-oak quality of Watson’s voice and his majestic flatpicking. His acoustic-guitar tone is ripe and perfectly balanced as his fingers do a mix of backcountry ballet and tap dance over the strings.


Issue Date: November 15 - 22, 2001

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