Lonesome Road / Look Away – Doc and Merle Watson
Southern Music Distribution 1977-2
Doc and Merle Watson, the father-and-son Southern acoustic duo, have
strengthened their legacy with the reissued and remastered Lonesome
Road and Look Away!, two albums originally released in 1977 and
1978, respectively, and now on one CD.
Both albums are heavy on vocal-driven bluegrass, with Doc’s laid-back but
emotive voice always at the fore while Merle, his late son, adds tasteful
solos on guitar, slide guitar and dobro. The vocals are the focus, both in
the way the music is performed and mixed. Instrumentation is tight and
solid, but always seems to accentuate the vocal aspect of the songs, rather
than attempt to draw attention to itself.
The 23-track collection (ten from Lonesome Road, 11 from Look
Away! and two previously unreleased songs from the same era) begins with
"I Recall A Gypsy Woman", featuring some clean acoustic guitar interaction
between the Watsons, punctuated with some harmonica from Doc. The feel is
free, easy, breezy and down home.
"Minglewood Blues", a foot-stomping, upbeat bluegrass shuffle with some
quickly picked slide guitar solos by Merle, follows. Here we are first
treated to some of Doc’s carefree spoken bits that relay a seemingly
ultra-relaxed and fun time in the studio throughout Lonesome Road.
"Yes I was," Doc adds after singing "I was born in a desert/raised in a
lion’s den." Before Merle takes a solo on "Mean Mama Blues", Doc implores
his son to "tell me about it now". Particularly poignant is father telling
son "pick me one more there, son," before another solo on "My Creole Belle".
Doc has a way of pouring buckets of emotion into his simple voice, and
nowhere is that more apparent than on the quasi-title track "Look Up Look
Down That Lonesome Road". The sad, slow track opens with Doc on an isolated
harmonica, before he begins the tale of loss. Lines like "The best of
friends must part some day, and why not you and I my love," "The only girl I
ever loved is on that train and gone" and "I never thought the day we first
met, this awful day would come" tell the story and tug at the heartstrings.
Another interesting twist on the "Lonesome Road" album is "Blue Railroad
Train", also covered on Jorma Kaukonen’s 2002 standout traditional album
Blue Country Heart. The song relies on harmony lead vocals – with Doc
up front – from start to finish, unlike most of the tracks here, which
feature Doc alone on the leads.
Look Away!, the second of the two albums, includes six traditional
tunes and a cover of Bob Dylan’s "Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right". The
mood on Look Away! is less jovial and loose than Lonesome
Road. The songs are tighter, more direct, serious and for the most part,
sadder. It’s interesting to see the emotional and, to a lesser extent,
musical contrasts between the two albums, especially considering they were
only recorded one year apart.
As is the case with most reissued collections, some previously unreleased
material is included to entice the diehards, who already own the original
records. But these two songs are far from filler. One can make the argument
that "New Born King" and "Peace In The Valley" are two of the best of the 23
tracks on the disc. Both songs are religious, with "New Born King" telling
the story of Jesus’s birth while strings thicken the arrangement. "Peace In
The Valley" brings the collection to a close on a somber note, which is
appropriate considering much of the material.
Doc and Merle Watson’s Lonesome Road/Look Away! is a worthy addition
to the record collection of any new acoustic, bluegrass, traditional,
country or spiritual music lover. The songs are played with passion, sung
with spirit and offer enough of a mix in style and content to make the
23-track set feel relatively short and easy to digest in one sitting, which
might be the highest compliment you can pay to such song-oriented artists.