Written by 9:46 am Audiophile Music

Doc Watson Foundation: A Guitar Instrumental Collection 1964-1998 and Eric Thompson: Thompson’s Real Bluegrass Instrumentals with Guitar

Some folks might argue as to whether banjo or guitar are the quintessential American instrument. But no one can argue that Doc Watson isn’t one of the most innovative steel-string guitar players to ever hold an instrument.



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In Japan Doc Watson would have been declared a National cultural
treasure years ago. His Sugar Hill anthology shows just why he’s so special.
From the opening attack of “Black Mountain Rag” to the final decaying
note of “Cannonball Rag” you can’t help but be amazed by Doc’s
technical ability and artistic creativity. The appellation “guitar
genius” is inadequate to describe Arthel “Doc” Watson. If you
haven’t heard him you don’t know what magic can be done with a single
triangular guitar pick.

For anyone who doesn’t own a Doc Watson recording Foundation is an excellent first
purchase. It contains material from eleven previous albums. While there isn’t
anything here that hasn’t already been released, the sequencing, excellent
sound, and fine packaging may appeal even to hard-core Doc fans who have most
of his output on CD. Dan Crary, no flatpicking slouch himself, contributes
insightful liner notes, while David Glasser, arguably the finest digital
mastering engineer for acoustic music on the planet, uses the Pacific
Microsonics HDCD process to great sonic effect. This fine album will convince
you that Doc Watson is one of the truly great guitarists of the 20th
century. 

Unlike Doc Watson, probably only a handful of people outside
the insular world of flatpicking and bluegrass guitar have heard of Eric
Thompson. He too is one of the pioneers of this all-American musical form. Thompson’s Real Bluegrass Instrumentals with
Guitar
was first released on Kicking Mule records in 1978. This re-release
includes all the original material as well as a pair of guitar mandolin duets
that Eric recorded with David Grisman in 1993. Eric Thompson’s guitar style is
rather different from Doc’s. Eric uses some string bending and arpeggiated
stylings that draw more from rock and R&B influences. 

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Joining Thompson on Real
Bluegrass Instrumentals
are younger incarnations of Tony Rice on rhythm
guitar, Jody Stecher and David Grisman on mandolin, Todd Phillips and Markie
Sanders on bass, Rick Shubb and Sandy Rothman on banjo, and Paul Shelasky on
fiddle. These 1978 sessions were made at 1750 Arch Studio by Bob Shumaker, and
sound quite good considering their age. Of course the two 1993 duets sound much
better, but what do you expect? 

My favorite cuts from Real
Bluegrass Instrumentals
are the two duets with David Grisman. Eric’s
current playing is both lyrical and assured, with fewer notes, but more profound
music. If you have a hard time finding this CD at your local CD superstore, you
can e-mail Eric at EricD28@aol.com.

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