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Various Artists (from the album I Am A Pilgrim , Doc Watson At 100 available on FLi Records/Budde Music (by Lee Zimmerman)
It’s little surprising that Arthel Lane Watson, better known as Doc Watson, one of the founding fathers of modern Bluegrass, continues to be hailed for his cumulative contributions to its sustained popularity. There are the obvious reasons of course — his seven Grammy Awards (in addition to his 23 nominations and a Lifetime Achievement Award), the National Medal of Arts he received in 1997 from President Bill Clinton and a life well documented in numerous annals, albums and compilations. So too, the fact that this year marks the 100th anniversary of his birth — on March 3, 1923 in Deep Gap, North Carolina — makes a centennial celebration all the more appropriate.
Doc Watson had several advantages while growing up, particularly when it came to paying rapt attention to the radio, and the Grand Ole Opry in particular, which allowed him to become acquainted with such early musical pioneers as Jimmie Rodgers and The Carter Family. He also learned to play guitar at an early age, leading him to become one of the foremost figures in the Folk revival of the early ‘60s. However, he also faced a disadvantage due to the fact that he became blind at an early age. Regardless, he released more than 30 albums during his lifetime, several of which found him collaborating with such important and influential individuals as Earl Scruggs, Ricky Skaggs, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Del McCoury, Taj Mahal, Mississippi John Hurt, and David Grisman, among the many.
Not surprisingly then, it’s an impressive group of musicians who take part in this impressive homage. Dolly Parton, Steve Earle, Marc Ribot, Bill Frisell, Jerry Douglas, Yasmin Williams, and Rosanne Cash are but a few of the marquee names playing a part. Most hew to the no-frill arrangements that Watson worked up originally. Likewise, several of the tracks will be familiar to even casual observers. Still, it’s a delight hearing Jerry Douglas’ apply his resonator guitar style to an instrumental version of “Shady Grove” and to witness Dolly Parton contribute her typically gentle caress to Tom Paxton’s “The Last Thing on My Mind”. Nora Brown’ mournful rendition of “Am I Born to Die” holds fast to the spiritual strains of the original, while there’s no mistaking Steve Earle’s gruff vocals on “Make Me a Pallet” or, by contrast, the delicate delivery Rosanne Cash shares in her version of “I Am a Pilgrim”. Corey Harris lends his trademark finesse to “How Long Blues”, just as newcomer Ariel Posen brings past to present with the seminal standard “Will the Circle Be Unbroken”, courtesy of an otherworldly instrumental treatment that breaks ranks with the original.
Ultimately, I Am a Pilgrim is everything a fine tribute should be, one that doesn’t refrain from taking liberties with the material while still giving reverential treatment to the subject of the salute. Hopefully, this collection will fuel interest in Watson for the next hundred years as well. (by Lee Zimmerman)
Listen and buy the music of I Am a Pilgrim from AMAZON
For more information and purchase options, please visit the Doc Watson website
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