THE ONLY STUFFY THINGS about Doc Watson's new album are its title and the ancient formal attire he put on for the cover photo. As far as the music goes, it's as personable as can be.

Some of Watson's favorite tunes make up the album. Shifting from blues to folk to country and old-timey music, the record offers listeners a chance to hear Watson stretch out a little, but there are certain qualities that almost every performance shares. His flat-picking guitar work, for one, is remarkable. For all his speed, Watson is an extremely tasteful player. No note is wasted on tunes like "I'm Worried Now" and "Nobody Knows but Me," and the crisp rhythms and bluesy embellishments sound just as natural as Watson's grainy, affecting voice.

Watson is no slouch on the banjo, either. Or for that matter on the autoharp, harmonica or 12-string guitar. He plays all of them here, backed by an all-star cast of pickers that includes dobroist Jerry Douglas, fiddler Mark O'Connor and mandolinist Sam Bush. The performances, like Watson himself, are one of a kind.


"Arthel 'Doc' Watson: Portrait" (Sugar Hill SH 3759). Appearing Friday at the Birchmere.