Kruger Brothers: Remembering Doc Watson

“As long as there is a song and a flat top guitar, there will be a part of Doc Watson living on.”

The Krugers Brothers met Doc Watson in 1997 when they were invited to play at Merlefest, the annual festival memorializing Doc’s son, Merle, who died tragically in a tractor accident in 1985. In the years that followed, their friendship with Doc grew and they were often invited to the Watson home or to back up Doc in some of his final concerts when not on the road themselves.

Remembering Doc Watson is a labor of love and, for musicians, a master class in Doc’s music and style. This is even more surprising since according to Uwe Kruger’s May 2012 web post following Doc’s passing “He never showed me a lick on the guitar, but talking about music and playing sometime even performing with him through the last 15 years were the best music lessons I ever got.”

The album is comprised of tunes that either Doc Watson played often in concert or that have some special place in the Kruger’s experience with him. From the moment I heard the first selection, I couldn’t stop listening. I had to hear the next track and the next and then the next. Here are a few highlights.

The disc begins with a Delmore Brothers selection, “Singing my Troubles Away.” Jens and Uwe were inspired to learn more about the Delmore Brothers from conversations with Doc. This tune, played on 2 guitars, is one of their favorites and has that easy, clean flat picking that closely resembles Doc’s style.

“Pallet on Your Floor” is characterized by wonderful harmonies and beautiful guitar backing, which transitions between traditional flatpicking and “Hawaiian” influenced jazz licks.

“John Henry,” one of several that feature Jens playing clawhammer style banjo, is a hard driving version of this folklore classic, which also features a guest appearance by Josh Day on drums and percussion.

“Streamlined Cannonball” is a straight ahead bluegrass version of the tune inspired by Doc and Merle’s recording from 1979. Uwe’s solo is again so reminiscent of Doc’s style of flatpicking – clean, precise yet melodic while Jen plays a driving 5 string accompaniment, at times syncopated with chromatic passages in a style I have come to recognize as being his signature.

“Windy and Warm

“Windy and Warm,” one of my favorites on the album, is performed with 2 guitars and bass and is best described as Doc meets Django. I remember first discovering Doc and Merle’s recording of this tune on one of their albums years ago, and spent weeks trying to learn it. After listening to this amazing rendition, I feel like I need to start all over again. Their interpretation is gorgeous and the playing is in a word spectacular.

One of the things I most appreciate about the Kruger Brothers’ style of playing is the sophistication of their musical ideas and the inherent beauty of how intricately they play together. You often hear people comment that vocal harmony is never quite as beautiful as when sung between siblings. I feel that same way when listening to how beautifully Jens and Uwe complement each other when playing, as if finishing each other musical thoughts. Watching them perform recently at Merlefest, I was astounded by their virtuosity and how locked in they were with each other and Joel Landesberg, their longtime bass player. I was close enough to see the looks and knowing smiles the brothers passed each other when one or the other pulled off a lick or solo, as if to say ”How about that one?, ” only to be answered by a flash of equal brilliance.

I think anyone who has enjoyed a Doc Watson tune will find this album a worthy addition to their collection. In fact, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if this one gets nominated for a Grammy. Listen and enjoy.

Double Time Music

Jacques DiCroce

Jacques DiCroce is a guitar player and multi-instrumentalist, residing in the Hudson Valley.

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