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.
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
Official Site: www.ramblinjack.com