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Jean Ritchie and Doc Watson At Folk City

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Album Review

According to reissue annotator Joe Wilson, Doc Watson and Jean Ritchie had never heard of each other before they got together for a concert at Folk City in 1963, which says something about the 40-year-old Watson's obscurity at the time and about his limited knowledge of other performers, since 39-year-old Ritchie had been recording for more than a decade. The two had a lot in common, however, the North Carolina-born guitarist and banjo player sharing a repertoire of traditional material with the Kentucky-born dulcimer player. During their set (actually featuring only six songs performed together, with seven solos by Watson and four by Ritchie), they mixed murder ballads with spirituals and dance tunes. The titles included many songs that were familiar to country fans, and that would become familiar to folk fans as well: "Pretty Polly," "Wabash Cannonball," and "Amazing Grace." Especially interesting were "Go Dig My Grave," "Hiram Hubbard," and "House Carpenter," on which Watson played banjo and Ritchie sang. This was very much a joint appearance rather than a real duo outing, but the performers were sufficiently strong and complementary enough to make it work. (The 1990 Smithsonian/Folkways reissue added three tracks — "East Virginia," "Blue Ridge Mountain Blues," and "Pretty Saro" — to the original 1963 release.)

Customer Reviews

Not too distant cousin of mine.

My father was born the same year as Jean. My great-grandma was a Ritchie, the same clan of mountainous Perry Co., Ky. So many of the songs were of dark tragedy and horror. It's strange then to hear such a clear, sweet voice such as Jean, still do justice to the tradition. You'd think the subject matter of these stories would lend themselves to gruff, low sounds. But the breed of such people in Appalachia was tough at the core. I met many who hid well the hardship of their lives behind a wink and a smile. Listen to some of these tragic tales of terror, magnified by the isolation of mountain life. People carved by poverty & few choices. Add to that the hardships endured by Doc Watson, due to his 'orphaning' for his blindness.

Makes you wish you were there

"Jean Ritchie and Doc Watson at Folk City" makes me wish a was born about 20 years earlier! The pair compliment one another well and it is an excellent live album. I would recommend this album for fans folks who are already fan of Ritchie or Watson or both! However, if you're unfamiliar with their work, I would suggest buying "Jean Ritchie: Ballads from her Appalachian Family Tradition" or Doc Watson's self-titled album first, as those albums are more representative of their work.


Born: December 8, 1922 in Viper, KY

Genre: Singer/Songwriter

Years Active: '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s

A key figure in the 1950s folk revival, Jean Ritchie was a one-woman treasure trove of near-forgotten American folk songs, most of which she learned as a child growing up in a rural corner of the Appalachian Mountains. Ritchie moved from Kentucky to New York City in the mid-'40s after attending college; there, she became a coffeehouse folksinger at night and a social worker by day. Along with her sporadic but deeply rewarding recording career, Jean Ritchie was best known as a tireless archivist of...
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Jean Ritchie and Doc Watson At Folk City, Jean Ritchie
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