Friday, December 09, 2005

CD Review: The Doc Watson Family - Tradition

Rating: ***

Music is all around us. Pouring out from the radio and the concert halls. Dripping from the internet stream and the pod cast. Booming from the crowded discothèque and blues bars. Music is everywhere.

Some of the best music comes from places few have ever seen. In the empty pool halls, the back yards, the living rooms and thousands of garages there is beautiful, passionate, amazing music being played. Right now, from every corner of the globe, someone is playing a tune, singing a song.

Before there was DVD audio, CDs, 8 tracks and even vinyl records, there was a caveman sitting around a fire howling out a song about his battles to his cavewoman. Through time we moved out of the cave into cozier dwellings, but we’re still sitting around a fire, singing about our lives, loves, and losses.

Years ago I had the experience of sitting around in a living room with a bunch of people and singing and playing. And it was like a spiritual experience. It was wonderful. I decided then that was what I wanted to do with my life was to play music, do music. In the making of records I think over the years we’ve all gotten a little too technical, a little too hung up on getting things perfect. And we’ve lost the living room. The living room has gone out of the music. –Emmylou Harris

In 1977 Doc Watson released Tradition, a record designed to put the living room back into the studio. It is not so much of a studio record, as a family sing a-long – quite literally since Watson uses his real family as a band. Doc is playing grandpa here, picking the guitar and singing songs older than the entire family put together. Dolly Greer is the grandmother singing silly children’s songs on the porch and lonesome fiddle tunes in the kitchen. The rest of the family pitches in on guitar and banjo singing old timey tunes while we gather round to listen.

The record is like an old photograph found buried in the back of the closet in your great grandmother’s closet. It’s not the prettiest picture ever taken, nor something to take out and hang on your living room wall. It’s a little tattered and worn, faded by the sun. Yet there is something familiar, comforting and beautiful about it.

Simple tunes like "Reuben’s Train", and "Biscuits" will surely put a smile on your face, and if they don’t make you get up and dance, you’ll at least be tapping your foot along to the tune.

There are lots of little half-songs and snippets of tunes. Dolly Greer sings a medley of four children’s songs that lasts less than three minutes in total. Her country accent is so heavy that you can hardly understand what it is exactly, that she’s singing, but she does it with such a happy zeal you can hardly fault her for any of it. There are other half-played fiddle tunes and songs that seem so spur of the moment and forgotten halfway through that the album really does feel like a family sitting on the back porch watching a lazy summer day float away.

It is definitely not an album for everyone. Fans of tightly wound, well crafted pop songs will surely find disappointment in the casual feel of the songs. I suspect even bluegrass and country music fans may find themselves looking back at the record bin through part of the 45 minutes of music here. But for anyone interested in traditional music, for a patient listener willing to wait for something special, there is a wealth of beautiful music in this disk.

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