'Round the Table Again
Doc Watson and Frosty Morn
(SUG CD 3935)
Sugar Hill Records
by Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.
When Doc Watson first appeared before audiences during the folk revival, he was often compared to traditional singers like Clarence Ashley, Frank Proffitt, and Dock Boggs. This comparison made sense, primarily because he shared a similar repertoire, and appealed to the same audiences as these other performers. Watson's performance style, however, varied in at least one basic aspect from other traditional performers. One can listen to his version of House Carpenter from At Gerdes Folk City and notice that the "stepped up" pace of the song has more in common with later versions by Tony Rice and Tim O'Brien, than an early version by Ashley. By removing the more leisurely pace, Watson is adding a bit of pizzazz to tradition, and updating it much in the same way Joan Baez updated Child Ballads for folk revival audiences.
Over time, Watson kept his contemporary edge by joining with younger performers like his son, guitarist Merle, and later his grandson, guitarist Richard Watson. When Merle put Frosty Morn together some twenty-five years ago to explore new musical directions, Doc wanted to become part of it. Now, the remaining members continue to reunite each year at Merlefest to remember their friend and founder. On 'Round the Table Again, Richard Watson, bassist T. Michael Coleman, guitarist/pianist Bob Lamar Hill, and guitarist Joe Smothers fill out Frosty Morn. 'Round the Table Again runs the gauntlet of material and styles, from traditional solo pieces featuring Doc Watson, blues duets between grandfather and grandson, and full-band versions of Dylan and Moody Blues' songs.
With each track, 'Round the Table Again adds another guitar or voice, slowly growing in complexity until it becomes a full-blown acoustic feast. Indeed, the real heart of the album begins on Walking in Jerusalem, the eighth track. Here, Watson takes the lead vocal, but the spotlight is on the rich mixture of gospel harmony provided by his musical comrades (think Doc Watson meets the Fairfield Four). The highlight of the set, however, is an acoustic rocker titled, Battle of Nashville. A small battalion of Martins, Hill's lead vocal, and lush harmony injects a heavy dose of pathos into this Civil War tale. The band follows this triumph with a fine take on Bob Dylan's You Ain't Going Nowhere.
The eclectic repertoire and diverse arrangements keep 'Round the Table Again endlessly listenable. Watson delivers solid versions of Jimmie Rodger's Jimmie's Mean Mamma Blues, Merle Haggard's Working Man Blues, and the Moody Blues' Nights in White Satin. Watson and Frosty Morn have a knack for invigorating old tunes, making them relevant to the here and now. Furthermore, this "updating" of tradition never loses the flavor of the original, nor forgets the emotion of the lyric. 'Round the Table Again is a superb recording, and will interest Watson fans, traditional music fans, and anyone who loves great acoustic music.