Spun: Ramblin’ Jack Elliott

By Ken Clarke

Ramblin’ Jack Elliott’s folk/roots career spans over half a century and during this period he’s been a major influence on many musicians, most notably Bob Dylan. The vocalist, guitar-picker and harp player’s latest release has long been in the works and is quite accidentally well-timed. All 10 tracks on A Stranger Here are blues tunes derived from the Great Depression including covers of songs by Blind Lemon Jefferson, Mississippi John Hurt and Son House, perfect for those feeling the blues in the current recession.

Though not known strictly as a blues musician, Elliott tackles all of his and producer Joe Henry’s hand-picked songs with gusto and charisma. The 77-year-old’s soulful, road-weary voice is perfect for this collection of tunes and convincingly makes them sound as if they were his own compositions. Accompanying Elliott is a top-notch backing band, including Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo on guitar and accordion, Van Dyke Parks on piano and vibes and Jay Bellerose on drums. Rounding out the mix is Henry’s subtle yet modern production style.

Highlights include the slide guitar filled “Soul Of A Man,” the dirge-like “Grinnin’ In Your Face,” and the appropriate closing track “Please Remember Me,” with its honky tonk style piano and Elliott’s seemingly drunken vocals.

A Stranger Here is certain to appeal to most blues aficionados. Due to the depression-era from which these tracks were chosen, let’s not forget that things could always be worse.

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