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on December 20, 2006
Dock Boggs is the quintessential haunting and haunted banjo player and singer. When I first heard his music a decade ago I felt a shock of recognition that I've never experienced with ANY other musician, regardless of musical style. Perhaps growing up in the backwoods of Mississippi in the 1960s lent me a familiarity to his musical & personal power that may be missing from more "modern" sensibilities. Every fibre in my body has been shaped and haunted by intensely personal innerworkings created by listening to & singing old-time songs and hymns and I find that my emotions are exactly reflected in Dock's music.

Upon hearing him for the first time, I immediately became a Dock Disciple and have incorporated many of his songs into my own banjo & guitar repetoire. It's a long shot that folks with more modern sensibilites will be as overwhelmed by Dock's vision as I, but I can only hope & pray that there are people out there (particularly the younger folks) that will be as moved by the awesome power of Dock as I have been. Dock represents a wisdom and strength of character that is becoming increasingly rare in the country's population today.

Several years ago, when I sat down on his grave in Norton, Virginia and played several of his songs to him on the banjo, the sun was beaming as bright as it could be; when I finished half an hour later with his devastating song "Calvary", it was pouring rain....which seemed so very fitting. Dock's playing & singing reflect an overwhelming quality of "terrible beauty".

It's difficult for me to put into words exactly what Dock's legacy means to me but, if you're ready & willing to give yourself over to an unparalled example of the true strength of the American character and the power of an absolutely unique, touching and simple-yet-complex life, Dock's music will thrill you and haunt you as no other. His biography reads like a series of parables straight from the Old Testament and every moment of his life, from his birth to his death, can be heard in his music.

ESSENTIAL listening; now more than ever, this CD set should be issued to every American upon birth.
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on June 4, 2000
This is dark music. Not stagey, Marilyn Manson dark, but really the deepest dark of the soul. All the tunes here sound even better-- more tortured, sadder, lonlier than they did on Boggs' original recordings from the 20's. Best are the "new" gospel tunes he chose for this session... the conviction and passion is just awe-inspiring. Sit in a dark room and listen to these recordings alone. It is a life changing experience. The quality of the recordings (especially with HDCD gear) is spectacular... you can almost believe Dock is in the corner, singing his soul out... just for you...and the demons.
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on March 1, 2000
This album is rough, beautiful, chilling, warm (yes, both chilling & warm), spare and rich, terrifying and funny. Dock makes his banjo sound alternately like Judgment Day & payday. Necessary for fans of old-time music.
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VINE VOICEon August 5, 2000
This collection is interesting for a number of reasons in addition to the music itself. First, Dock Bogs is a musician whose career was interrupted for 35 years by the Depression. The natural musicianship which shows itself after such an interruption is fascinating in itself. Second, the notes to the tracks tell where Dock Boggs learned the song which provides interesting insights to how folk music perpetuates itself in the concrete rather than abstract. Including the lyrics in the booklet would have been useful.
The breadth of the material is delightful. "My Old Horse Died" is based on a verse from a life insurance advertisement. There are blues, ballads and gospel pieces all played on the banjo learned from relatives, friends, recordings or self-composed.
Count this as a must-have for anyone with an interest in folk banjo or Appalachian music.
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on January 6, 2004
Dock Bogg's music is typical of old time music by white appalachian performers, particularly banjo players. In this forum, his grand neice points out that he has one of the best combinations of Blues and country ever found. He was a singularly personal performer.
In many ways he is more like the Skip James of old time banjo than the Robert Johnson, particularly if you listen to the haunted original recordings James made in the 1930s. In fact in the 1960s when he joined the folk revival and performed along with a lot of the old blues musicians who had similarly been "rediscovered" Dock Boggs said if he had to do it all over again, he would have learned to play guitar and sing the way Mississippi John Hurt played and sang!
The bluesiness of this all may be more pronounced in Boggs' work, but it was really typical of the white Southern banjo players of his era. They are playing an African instrument, transmitted into their area by African Americans, their repetoire ranges into blues, their musical styles on the instruments even in non-blues are influenced by blues music. They lived in a society where the formal racial separation of Jim Crow Segregation and Lynch law existed because of the actual integration of the lives and cultures of white and black workers and farmers and above all musicians was greater than what we have today.
Dock Boggs was quite explicit. He recalled the names of the black banjo players he saw in childhood who played banjo finger style, rather than in the claw hammer style that his brothers played. From childhood he wanted to play like them. Many of the tunes he recorded he said he got from listening to Black blues records. Anyone who cares to read the many interviews with Boggs that have been published or listen to the cds and lps of his memories can learn about this.
Bogg's skills as a singer, as a banjo player, and, above all, as a performer who throws himself entirely into his songs,are unique. But the mixture of African and European American music he represents is hardly unique.
He may collide with the rather false, sometime boring, washed white fantasies about old time white country music nourished by folkies and post folkies and with what white racists who cling to as something purely "white," but Boggs' bluesyness is part of being real old time and not a suburban 60-90s fantasy of old time life.
What about the other great finger picking discovery of old-time banjo playing, Roscoe Holcomb. When he was rediscovered though Holcomb's repetoire included all kinds of music played on banjo, guitar, harmonic, and fiddle, he said he was a blues singer and one of the better ones around his area of Kentucky!
The mixture is real. If you go back and listen to say the Carter family (whose guitar style came from a black man Leslie Riddle who performed on several of their cuts) or to Bill Monroe (who along with fellow western Kentuckian Merle Travis learned much of his music from Black bluesman Arnold Schultz) they sound so much blusier, so much more black influences, than the Allison Krauses and Nickel Creeks reared in suburbia and not the world of racial cultural mix that Dock Boggs comes from.
Just a point of fact, Bogg's banjo style is closer to bluegrass than most other banjo players of his time. Most of Boggs contemporaries were frailers of various kinds, whereas Boggs was a finger picker for the most part. Bluegrass banjo involves precisely adding in the bluesier licks and sounds to the music in an systematic fashion. It is a finger style with just the kind of synchopation that Boggs was a master at.
Particularly the initial bluegrass recordings of Bill Monroe at the end of WWII are obviously a reaction to the rhythmns of Swing. The setup of the tunes, playing the melody first and then opening for improvisational solos by virtuosi musicians, comes from the combo swing and bop then prevelant and has nothing to do with how old time music functioned. As the greatest Bluegrass Fiddler Kenny Baker said, to play Bluegrass Fiddle you need to think like playing Jazz.
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on August 19, 2014
Dock Boggs Folkways years will give you all the listening pleasure you desire. This is the one to get! This has the superior version of all his songs. These will make your skin crawl, his tortured singing combined with pure brilliance on Banjo. The best of Dock! "Little Black Train" is the pinnacle if you ask me. There are loads of his best songs right here! I only gave this recording a 4 because Dock Boggs is not for everyone.
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on March 18, 2014
I almost gave this 3 stars, but for what it is, this albums is singular. It is one-dimensional in that it is a banjo and an old man singing song after song (and a lot of them). I finally gave it 4 stars because it hardly gets better than this for what it is. It distills (in an almost moonshiner way) folk ballads and a sound from the Appalachians. The lyrics are thought-provoking, as if you are getting a window into people's souls in a variety of miserable situations. That this can come through with such simple music is an achievement.
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on January 26, 2003
My review is a "little" prejudiced since Dock Boggs was my great uncle but I think his music is the best combination of blues and folk around. He put all he had into his music and loved it. It will bring chills and good feelings to anyone who loves music for the soul done as he did! All his songs are good!
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on February 2, 1999
This set is a terrific complement to the reissue of Boggs' early recordings. The brooding fatalism is always present to some extent but his range is well displayed here. The religious music such as Little Black Train, banjo clogs and up tempo pieces like the almost joyous Sugar Blues highlight the scope of this important musician. Great music in its own right and an important document.
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VINE VOICEon August 14, 2009
Mike Seeger's recent death has spurned me into writing some reviews I've wanted to write for years but hadn't yet gotten to. Maybe there's no more fitting tribute to Mike than to say he was the guy who had the determination and foresight to track down Dock Boggs and make these recordings.

Childhood memories of some of Dock's original 12 sides (Country Blues: Complete Early Recordings) stuck with Mike for years. This 2-disc set is the result. Magical Lamentations. Haunting Dissonances. Primordial Repetitions. These are what Dock Boggs' music is to me.

Clarence Ashley's voice got smoother and softer with age. Lonnie Johnson's entire musical aesthetic switched over into much more common territory in his post-war, rediscovery years. Dock Boggs music and vocals, like that of Skip James, took on new, even darker dimensions with age. It doesn't happen here on the lighter fare, but on Bright Sunny South, Little Black Train, Cuba, etc... Dock's banjo is ghostly. A haunted halo surrounds it, and throughout many of my favorite tunes here, his gravel-streaked, coal-dust voice cuts right down the middle of it. This is awesome stuff, folks.

When the tragic Sago Mine explosion occured in West Virginia, this was one of the albums to which I turned. I'd wanted to send a CD-R to the Sago Baptist church to show the town someone outside of their town, outside of their coal culture cared. I didn't know if I should. I didn't know if it'd mean anything to send one CD-R to a town and hope the message was conveyed. In the end, I never did it but I stil think about that disaster every time I hear Prayer of a Miner's Child. That and Miner's Lullaby from Heart Songs: The Old Time Country Songs of Utah Phillips are what I continue to regret not sending to the church in Sago. Even if it only helped a couple people, that's a couple more than were helped by not sending.

Music, music, music. Dock Boggs. Mike Seeger. I just have to be happy people like this are part of my life.
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