Arthel "Doc" Watson was nearly 40 years old and had been playing guitar and banjo most of his life when he was discovered as part of the folk music revival of the early '60s; Watson was a remarkably gifted instrumentalist who had a nearly encyclopedic knowledge of traditional folk and country songs, and he became a cornerstone artist on the folk music scene, as he recorded and toured regularly until his death in 2012. A massive influence on such pickers as Vince Gill
, Ricky Skaggs
, and Clarence White
, Watson left behind a massive body of work, and The Definitive Doc Watson
is a two-disc set that brings together highlights from his recordings for Vanguard and Sugar Hill Records. While this means that a large portion of Watson's catalog is left unrepresented, Vanguard and Sugar Hill happen to be two of the labels with which Watson had the longest and most fruitful relationship, so this gives the set a broader focus than one might imagine. And while this set is a bit short of truly being "definitive" -- it would take a cross-licensed box set to truly fit that description -- there's plenty of great music here, and these 34 tracks show off Watson's warm, rich, unaffected vocals, superlative flat-picked guitar, and impressive banjo work to excellent advantage. A collection of essential songs performed by a master of the form, The Definitive Doc Watson
is a fine introduction to a giant of American folk music, and a strong if somewhat limited sampler of his recording career.