First Appeared in The Music Box, September 2007, Volume 14, #9
Written by Douglas Heselgrave
Thu September 27, 2007, 06:00 AM CDT
Doc Watson is a great artist. His clear, unaffected singing along with his pristine and seemingly effortless style of playing guitar have entertained generations of bluegrass fans. Watson’s supreme naturalness — and his ability to make everything sound as if there’s nothing to it — hides a level of discipline and technical proficiency that is virtually unparalleled in the roots-music genre. Now in his 80s, Arthel "Doc" Watson has slowed down the pace of his life considerably, and his recordings and concert appearances are rare and noteworthy events. It is a pity that Vanguard Records, the home of many of Watson’s greatest recorded performances, has not treated his venerated body of work with the care and reverence that it deserves. Like the rest of the discs in the well-intentioned but utterly misguided Vanguard Visionaries series, Watson’s installment is — ironically — almost entirely lacking in vision and commonsense.
In the nearly 50 years since he began to record, Doc Watson has committed more country and bluegrass classics to tape than any other artist this side of Johnny Cash. Blind since the age of one, Watson is literally a walking encyclopedia of American roots music and rural guitar styles. He — like Odetta and many of the other performers represented in the Vanguard Visionaries series — is a living treasure, and, also like his compatriots, a sensitive overview of his canon has been long overdue. Vanguard’s chop jobs and roughshod tractor rides through all of these artists’ catalogues are a shame and a sin.
The 10 tracks that have been assembled for Watson’s edition of Vanguard Visionaries fail to scratch the surface or give any indication of his accomplishments. In effect, this 26-minute overview is finished playing almost as soon as it begins. The songs are all wonderful, of course, but other than interesting takes on Rising Sun Blues and Shady Grove, there is nothing terribly challenging or eye-opening on this endeavor. Whoever compiled the outing — there are no credits or liner notes anywhere — neglected to dig very far into the considerable catalogue of albums that Watson recorded during his Vanguard heyday in the 1960s. Considering that CDs are capable of holding nearly 80 minutes of music, it would have taken little extra money or effort to paint a much more thorough and compelling picture of Watson’s beautiful and essential work. Curious listeners would be well advised to seek out the reasonably priced and far superior four-disc collection The Vanguard Years or the more concise overview provided by The Essential Doc Watson. Simply put, Vanguard Visionaries ought to be avoided at all costs. Purchasing it will only encourage the company to issue more of these unfortunate sets, and that would be a travesty.
Of Further Interest...
Vanguard Visionaries is available from Barnes & Noble.
To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2007 The Music Box