EVERY DOC WATSON album showcases this country-folk veteran's avuncular tale-spinning vocals and guitar-picking so easygoing you hardly notice its virtuosity. And most Watson albums collect tunes that have recently caught his fancy. But "Pickin' the Blues," his latest album, also boasts a well-developed focus and a well-chosen special guest to make it one of Watson's best in a long time.

Watson devotes the album to his favorite blues songs, including those he first heard on his family's wind-up gramophone. By putting Jimmy Rodgers, Louis Armstrong, Roy Acuff and Sonny & Brownie on the same album, Watson makes clear just how close the early blues and country traditions were. Watson's lively guitar flat-picking and his chuckling vocals give these blues a resiliently optimistic flavor.

Doc Watson's regular accompanists -- his son Merle on guitar and T. Michael Coleman on bass -- are joined by the New Grass Revival's Sam Bush. Bush's relaxed, friendly virtuosity on mandolin and fiddle proves a perfect match for Doc's. But the best solos are Merle's singing slide guitar breaks on "Stormy Weather" and "Freight Train Blues."

DOC & MERLE WATSON -- "Pickin' the Blues" (Flying Fish FF 352); appearing Friday and Saturday at the Birchmere.