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Rounder presents
The Three Pickers (2003)

"I thought, 'Hey, if we could put our hearts, heads, and fingers together—and our instruments together—we could come up with something pretty good for The Three Pickers."
- Doc Watson

Review By: Jeff Rosado  
Published: July 29, 2003

Stars: Earl Scruggs, Doc Watson, Ricky Skaggs, Alison Krauss
Other Stars: John Jorgenson, Gary Scruggs, Richard Watson, Brad Davis, Glen Duncan, Mark Fain, Rob Ickes, Cody Kilby, Andy Leftwich, Jim Mills, Martin Parker, Darrin Vincent
Director: Jim Brown

Manufacturer: Disctronics
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 01h:24m:56s
Release Date: July 15, 2003
UPC: 011661052697
Genre: country

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A+ A+A+A+ A-

DVD Review

Sometimes, musical revivals begin life in strange places. In the winter of 2000 when the film O Brother, Where Art Thou was being plugged in the media, most of the attention went to co-directors Joel and Ethan Coen, and leading man George Clooney. Shifting into wide release at the start of 2001, good word of mouth didn't translate to the box office. Instead, most of the buzz centered on unseen participants: The performers on the film's T-Bone Burnett-produced soundtrack. Thanks to a cleverly edited music video centered around the movie's finale, which featured Clooney lip-synching his heart out to Dan Tyminksi's Man of Constant Sorrow, plus a groundswell of support from alternative and country radio, the companion CD not only topped the charts but wound up snagging Album of the Year honors at the 2002 Grammy awards.

Although the public's craving for mountain-flavored musical samplings have simmered somewhat, the projects inspired by O Brother have not. Taking a cue from the Coen-produced documentary, Down from the Mountain that featured the soundtrack artists in a relaxed concert setting, country music and bluegrass superstar Ricky Skaggs coordinated a similar project, teaming with two living legends: Doc Watson, the multi-Grammy winning folksinger/guitarist, and banjo pioneer Earl Scruggs.

Playfully dubbed The Three Pickers (a tug at the famous operatic threesome), this PBS production was recorded in the fall of 2002 before a respectful and wildly appreciative audience at R.J. Reynolds Auditorium in Watson's home state of North Carolina. Featuring guest appearances by violin virtuoso Alison Krauss, Skagg's back-up band Kentucky Thunder, and members of Scrugg's touring group, the trio swap stories in engaging back-porch fashion, and trade licks in an hour-long set that covers traditional folk classics, buried gems, and bluegrass standards. Being of Southern heritage, music of this nature is almost second nature to folks in these parts; we're practically born with a built-in love for it. Still, such familiarity didn't prepare me for the emotional and joyous reaction I had watching these three masters of their craft playing and singing with the vitality of teenagers. Truly an inspiring event, The Three Pickers gives a truly American-made musical art form one of its finest showcases.

Many years ago, I read a capsule review of the classic Allman Brothers live album, At Fillmore East, in which the writer pointed out there were no wasted notes or pointless jams to be heard. That same statement could apply to Pickers: choosing highlights is akin to grandparents being forced to pick favorites among the young 'uns. There's Watson's stirring take on the standard Walk on Boy (with grandson Richard adding dazzling fretwork that inspires the 80-year-old player to double his riffs flawlessly in the homestretch). Making the accomplishment all the more remarkable is that Doc has been blind since he was a year old, but that handicap didn't stop him from becoming one of the industry's most gifted singer/musicians.

Aside from a single number with his Kentucky Thunder sidemen, Skaggs prefers to occupy the role of team player. Try as he may, his remarkable mandolin finesse and enthusiastic, heartfelt tenor vocals can't help but stand out on Pick On, Don't Let Your Deal Go Down and the stirring Who Will Sing For Me?, a tear-inducing vintage gospel tune featuring Scruggs taking a rare turn on acoustic guitar, on which the ageless instrumentalist is equally handy. But the unsung hero of the festivities has to be the banjo maven whose influence runs so deep, his 2001 tribute album gave impetus for an eclectic guest list that featured the likes of Elton John and Vince Gill under one musical tent. From the rousing Earl's Breakdown to the national anthem of bluegrass, Roll in My Sweet Baby's Arms, Scruggs still possesses the unmistakable nimble-fingered quickness of his days with Lester Flatt (with whom Earl recorded such memorable classics as The Ballad of Jed Clampett for television's The Beverly Hillbillies and Foggy Mountain Breakdown utilized to great effect by director Arthur Penn in Bonnie and Clyde).

With enough musical riches to carry a show on their own, the pickers unselfishly share the spotlight with the wonderful Krauss on a mid-gig triplet of tunes that are especially noteworthy: The Banks of the Ohio (the Carter Family classic), The Storms are on the Ocean, and a note-perfect a cappella rendering of Down in the Valley to Pray, a song that figured prominently (albeit reworked) in O Brother, during the baptism scene.

In closing, a confessionary note: At the risk of being granny-whipped with a fiddle bow, I knew nothing of Doc Watson's musical abilities prior to sitting down with this disc, aside from his name; Skaggs' participation in the proceedings (a big favorite from my days in country radio) was my main reason for giving this disc a spin. But mercy, did I come away as a convert to a fan of the man whom the relatively younger singer/instrumentalist rightly refers to as "an American treasure."

Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1:78:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Pristine all the way thanks to the event being recorded for high definition playback. Only just a teenie weenie trace of edge-enhancement type artifacts visible on stringed instruments (and for a scant few seconds at that) was the only entry I could find to put into the error column, but that's only because I was looking for it; most folks would give this an A+ without question and following their lead, so will I. Beautiful stage lighting, well balanced cameras….it almost makes me want to go yee-haw! But I won't; reviewers must learn to keep their hooting at a minimum.

Image Transfer Grade: A+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Complimenting the stellar visuals is the equally stunning soundtrack, available in both 2.0 and 5.1 versions. Though the default Dolby Stereo track is blessed with strong attributes, the latter option is the only way to experience the Pickers in all their aural glory, from Ricky's mandolin runs to the stand-up bass. Acoustic music and DVD audio compliment each other supremely, so it's more than likely that you'll find this disc on reserve soon at your nearest A/V store keen enough to realize that there's more to demonstrating a high-end system than a Metallica disc cranked to 11. Speaking of shrill, only the slight over-amplification of that enthusiastic Winston-Salem audience in the rear speakers made me think twice about slapping the highest grade upon this release. But you know, I think I was as loud as they were, all by my lonesome.

Audio Transfer Grade: A+


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Music/Song Access with 17 cues and remote access
1 Documentaries
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. About The Songs
Extras Review: Most music DVDs tend to be dry as a martini in terms of bonus material, but Pickers gives true appreciators of bluegrass a whale of an extra-inning treat in the form of a 22-minute post-pick documentary. Featuring rehearsal footage, behind-the-scenes glimpses and enjoyable interviews with the principals who discuss their genuine admiration for one another, their emotional commitment to their material, and recollections of first encounters (Skaggs' wonderful recanting of his first-ever television appearance on Flatt and Scruggs' small screen showcase as a child protégé is a treat). Although some of the material is recycled from earlier sound bites inserted into the main program's introductory pieces, it's nice to have these interviews in extended form with additional insights, including Skaggs' thoughts on potential follow-ups involving Scruggs and Watson and the dream of playing Carnegie Hall, Nashville's famed Ryman Auditorium (the "mother church" of country music), and the Kennedy Center.

Gentlemen, you have got one heck of a toe-tappin' audition video; put it to good use! Rounding out the package is a nicely done About the Songs section that features historical footnotes on all the selections performed.

Extras Grade: A-


Final Comments

A bluegrass musical document that works on so many different levels, from a "can't miss" primer on the genre to a chance to witness three of the greatest musicians (and equally talented companions) on the planet at their very best. Superb production all the way around, impeccable audio and useful extras earn this disc instant classic status. Pick on!


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