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CD: Ramblin’ Jack Elliott: A Stranger Here

What do old country blues songs written during the Depression have to say about the times we live in now? Plenty, it turns out. Ramblin’ Jack Elliott’s latest CD for the always-adventurous Anti-label raises goosebumps with raw tales of betrayal and loss. To hear Jack sing of death having “no mercy in this land “ is to know that some emotions never go out style.

Credit producer extraordinaire Joe Henry (Solomon Burke, Allen Toussaint) with steering Ramblin’ Jack toward songs penned in the 1920’s by blues veterans like Blind Lemon Jefferson, Furry Lewis, Lonnie Johnson, Mississippi John Hurt, Son House, and Tampa Red. Old chestnuts “Rising High Water Blues” and “Death Don’t Have No Mercy” fit the 77-year-old folk legend’s weathered voice like a glove.

Ramblin' Jack Elliott, a classic bluesman.Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, a classic bluesman.

Routinely cited as the missing link between Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan, Ramblin’ Jack surrounds himself on “A Stranger Here” with a seriously talented bunch of musicians, including frequent Brian Wilson collaborator Van Dyke Parks and Los Lobos founder David Hildago. But if the CD has a liability, it’s the band’s occasionally slaphappy accompaniment. These guys are so loose, they sometimes sound like they’re playing on a circus midway in the middle of a rainstorm.

But the elemental power of the blues shines through, especially on Blind Willie Johnson’s mesmerizing “Soul of A Man” and Son House’s haunting “Grinnin’ in Your Face.” Ramblin’ Jack isn’t without a sense of humor; he looks for the silver linings – and finds them – in Tampa Red’s mischievous “New Stranger Blues.”

Release Date: 4/7/009

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About Jenny Peters (164 Articles)
Jet Set Jen is the brainchild of Jenny Peters, a longtime freelance journalist whose career has spanned everything considered "Lifestyle" reporting, from movies and celebrities to fashion and fast cars, with plenty of food, wine and travel thrown in too. She currently contributes regularly to USA Today's,, New York Magazine, Coast Magazine, Bask Magazine and numerous other newspapers, magazines and websites worldwide. She is a founding and voting member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association (, which annually honors the year's top films with the Critics' Choice Awards. Jenny and her crack cadre of reporters at Jet Set Jen offer up opinions, suggestions and insider scoops on the best that the world has to offer, to keep you on the cutting edge of that ever elusive pursuit of life, liberty, happiness – and fun, fun, fun.

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