DOWN SOUTH" was Doc Watson's idea, and a downright good one at that. Watson clearly wanted to bring his music full circle on this recording, to celebrate the traditional songs, musicians and tunesmiths who first inspired him. So, along with son Merle (who produced the album), he drew up a list of his favorites -- such songs as "Cotton Eyed Joe," "Hesitation Blues" and "Solid Gone" were at the top of it; so were songwriters Mississippi John Hurt and A.P. Carter. The rest, judging from the album, came naturally.

Although there's ample evidence of Doc Watson's flatpicking guitar virtuosity and Merle's nimble fingerpicking on "Down South," that alone would hardly set this album apart from several others. Even the relaxed and seemingly innate relationship of the Watsons and their session mates -- fiddler Sam Bush and bassists T. Michael Coleman and Buddy Davis -- is to be expected. No, it's the felicitous arrangements and the unmistakable affection the Watsons pour into these songs that really make "Down South" something special.

Choosing highlights from an album as consistent as this one isn't easy, but the buoyant "Slidin' Delta," the mournful "Coal Miner's Blues" and Doc's moving a cappella version of "What a Friend We Have in Jesus" outline the emotional range of this heartfelt music. In each case, the circle remains unbroken.

DOC & MERLE WATSON -- "Down South" (Sugar Hill 3742); appearing Friday at 8 at The Barns of Wolf Trap.