Ramblin' Jack Elliott - A Stranger Here
- Artist: Ramblin' Jack Elliott
- Album: A Stranger Here
- Label: Anti
- Year of Release: 2009
- ME Rating:
- Reviewed by: patchen on 2009-09-10
Produced by Joe Henry, w/ guests Van Dyke Parks and David Hidalgo (Los Lobos), "A Stranger Here" might seem at first like yet another in the hip-producer-resurrects-career -of-legend-by-reminding-him-of-his-roots, and in a way you'd be right in thinking that. Here, folk legend Ramblin' Jack Elliiot, a walking encyclopedia of American folk and country music, yet one who never really made an impact with either original work or definitive reworkings of classics, wends his way through the American Songbook ayet again, this time with a bit more vigor, some jazzy showmanship, and the most welcome addition of Hidalgo's jagged guitar.
"Death Don't' Have No Mercy" and "How Long Blues" are the best vehicles for Elliott's talking blues, world weary vocal style, though others, including the somewhat perfect for him "Rambler's Blues" comes across as a bit restrained. As usual, even with Henry's vision (which here is surprisingly a bit glossy), Ramblin' Jack is confident, self-referencial as a continuation of the "learn at the foot of the master" legend, and ultimately competent but not distictive. From Woody to Pete to Bob to Jack has always had a weird ring to it anyway.
Unlike, say, Marianne Faithful, Loretta Lynn, Neil Diamond (who learned only recently in a stripped down session that you can deliver a song without trying to eat the audience) and, of course, Johnny Cash, Ramblin Jack Elliiott was given room to explore his legend and play with it, and decided in the end to play it safe. Fans of the man will dig "A Stranger Here," and technically there are no bad songs here. Just nothing that challenging.
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