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Tuesday May 23, 2017
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Doc Watson

 

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isn't really an old-time song," he said. Then, a trifle disdainfully: "Unless you consider the twenties old-time."

Much can be said (and probably will be, in advance of Watson's January 26 appearance at the Ann Arbor Folk Festival) of Watson's tremendous influence as a guitarist and banjoist — never flashy, he has a hypnotic way of exploring small musical spaces. For me, though, Watson as singer of songs is most compelling. His performances open up a view of American music in which the 1920s do seem fairly close at hand.

The point is not that Watson's repertoire skews toward an older, purer layer of folk music than those of the other southeastern performers who came to prominence during the 1960s folk revival. A working country musician for many years before he ever heard of folk music, Watson is adept at incorporating new pieces into his repertoire. Not long ago he recorded an entire album of rockabilly songs, and, as with all the very greatest white country musicians, the blues have touched nearly every number he does.

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