Album Review

Doc Watson - Trouble In Mind: The Doc Watson Country Blues Collection1964-1998

Doc Watson - Trouble In Mind: The Doc Watson Country Blues Collection1964-1998

The producers of this new compilation remind us that with all the trouble would-be categorizers have had trying to peg Doc Watson as a folk, country, bluegrass or even (if they know their Doc history) rockabilly musician, they generally fail to bring up the one musical form he has never stopped turning to and has long since mastered -- the blues. Given the varieties of roots music he has made his own, that continuing emphasis shouldn't be much of a surprise; blues is a basic ingredient in all of them. This quarter-century-spanning, cross-label compilation both addresses a need and, predictably enough, piles up listening pleasures. That the sides collected begin in 1964 is no accident. By then, Doc had not only revisited and reinvigorated the picked, articulated, rhythmic North Carolina blues styles of both the white folks (Dock Boggs' "Country Blues", Charlie Poole's "White House Blues") and the black folks (Blind Boy Fuller's "My Little Woman, You're So Sweet"), he'd also met John Hurt at the Newport Folk Festival and had added turns on the Mississippian's sweet, complex picked-blues style to his repertoire. There are several tunes here associated with Hurt -- "Spike Driver Blues", "Stackolee" -- and since Doc's talented son Merle Watson was also taken with Hurt's music, their father-and-son guitar-vocal duets are standouts. The compilation also shows Doc's hillbilly blues side. Jimmie Rodgers was an early idol, and Watson takes on several of his classics here with gusto -- "Never No More Blues", "Anniversary Blues/Blue Yodel #7", "Gambler's Yodel". There's room for the Delmore Brothers' "Deep River Blues" country boogie, and for the Mississippi Sheiks' "Sittin' On Top Of The World", which was taken up by blues and country masters equally. To all of these blues variations, Doc brings his own special gift -- an unmatched ability to pick and sing precisely, yet making the end result flow like sweet water. Only doubling the number of cuts would have made this any better -- but these seventeen will do, more than nicely.