Jump to Content

Welcome! You’re browsing the No Depression Archives

No Depression has been the foremost journalistic authority on roots music for well over a decade, publishing 75 issues from 1995 to 2008. No Depression ceased publishing magazines in 2008 and took to the web. We have made the contents of those issues accessible online via this extensive archive and also feature a robust community website with blogs, photos, videos, music, news, discussion and more.

Close This

Not Fade Away - Reissue Review from Issue #3 Spring 1996

Doc Watson

The Vanguard Years (4-CD box) (Vanguard )

Doc Watson may have recorded for many labels over the years, but the folks at Vanguard Records have wisely recognized their cut of the pie (from 1963 to 1971) as some of Watson’s most seminal work. As a result, they’ve issued this cohesive and complex document of Watson’s most influential period of artistic growth.

By definition, The Vanguard Years is not a completist’s collection, although it is an expansive project (64 songs over four discs), and much of Watson’s most popular work is represented here. More interesting, though, is the lesser-known material, on which Watson can be heard evolving his famous flatpicking style that, as noted in the elegant liner notes, “made complex fiddle tunes come alive on guitar.”

The set opens audaciously with a short, wispy version of “Rambling Hobo”, recorded live at the 1963 Newport Folk Festival. An intrepid style for folk music at the time, it sets a tone of innovation that pulls you breathlessly through the rest of the first disc, a study of musical exploration that rivals the great jazz instrumentalists of the same era. Particularly stirring is the spooky, music-box rendition of “Grandfather’s Clock.”

Discs two and three focus on Watson’s astonishing ability to inform simple, traditional compositions with passion and soul. His haunting take on “Rising Sun Blues” eclipses subsequent versions, and on “Talk About Suffering”, “Omie Wise”, and many other songs, it’s Watson’s stoic vocals that shine. As an accomplished guitarist, Watson often is overlooked as a vocalist. Here, his voice is presented as a vital element of his interpretive talents. By the end of the third disc, even the familiar standards sound fresh again.

This is largely because Vanguard has done a remarkable job improving the sound quality on much of Watson’s earlier work. By comparison, disc four — a collection of 17 unreleased live cuts — is a minor dissapointment. The audio quality takes a dive, and there’s little here that isn’t already captured on the richer, earlier material. Still, it’s a hoot to hear Watson getting a charge out of his son Merle’s solo during their duet on “Salt Creek”.

Watson is quoted as saying he believed “clinging to our traditional roots is what has kept us alive in the music business.” While this may be true, The Vanguard Years is a definitive statement on Watson as an innovator. But it also stands as a testament to the effect a musician’s label can have on their career. Vanguard obviously shared Watson’s love of music and cleared the way for him to grow as an artist. That kind of relationship is rare, and it’s what makes this collection so essential.

Enjoy the ND archives? Consider making a donation with PayPal or send a check to:
No Depression, 460 Bush St., San Francisco, CA 94108


Did you enjoy this article? Start a discussion about it, or find out what others are saying in the No Depression Community forum.

Join the Discussion »

Find out what's going on in roots music. Share concert photos and videos, learn about new artists, blog about the music you love.

Join the No Depression Community »

Originally Featured in Issue #3 Spring 1996

Cover of Issue #3 Spring 1996

Sorry, this issue is SOLD OUT

Buy our history before it’s gone!

Each issue is artfully designed and packed full of great photos that you don‘t get online. Visit the No Depression store to own a piece of history.

Visit the No Depression Store »

From the Blogs

  • Chris Isaak's Life Beyond the Sun
    In 2011, Chris Isaak took the long overdue step of recording an album at Sun Studios in Memphis, Tenn. It wasn't just any album, it was faith interpretations of classic songs by his musical mentors and heroes: Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins. It didn’t take much of a leap of imagination to predict that the album would be so […]
  • Ray LaMontagne at the Woods at Fontanel (Nashville, Tenn. – July 25, 2014)
    Ray LaMontagne writes great songs and makes great records. And that's certainly no small feat. His live shows, though, while being technically and musically superlative, really don't leave the audience with a whole lot to hang on to other than the technique and the music. There's no personal engagement on LaMontagne's part. It's as i […]
  • Freight Train Boogie Show #264 features new music from Old Crow Medicine Show, Carolina Story, Yvette Landry and The Sweet Potatoes
    FTB Show #264 features the new album by Old Crow Medicine Show called Remedy.  Also new music from Carolina Story, Yvette Landry and The Sweet Potatoes. Here's the iTunes link to subscribe to the FTB podcasts.  Here's the direct link to … […]
  • Vancouver International Folk Festival Day Two (Jericho Beach, Vancouver, BC - July 19th, 2014)
    While Friday night at the Vancouver Folk Festival focuses on main stage performances, the rest of the weekend on the sprawling festival grounds of Jericho Beach is as notable for its smaller workshop performances. This was especially true this year. This particular Saturday started with the official public announcement of Joan Baez's cancellation. Perha […]
  • Chris O’Connell - Be Right Back (Album Review)
    The art of feeling a song’s essence  -- color, range, control, and style -- and giving it all to you is the domain of the great jazz singers, like Betty Carter, Abbey Lincoln, Carmen McRae, Sarah Vaughan; and the great pop singers, like Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight, Stevie Nicks, Bonnie Raitt. Chris O’Connell has a voice that carries you up with her when i […]
  • Getting to Know Zak Smith -- Falcon Ridge Emerging Artist
    Zak Smith is from New Jersey and proud of it. There’s an incredibly large musical legacy in that state and Zak works hard at maintaining his place within it. As one music critic pointed out, “Zak Smith proves his worth with passionate vocals and concisely written songs from the gut.” What more could you ask for?  Not much.  Zak Smith is one of 24 emerging ar […]

Shop Amazon by clicking through this logo to support NoDepression.com. We get a percentage of every purchase you make!

Subscribe To the No Depression Newsletter

Subscribe to the No Depression Newsletter