May 7, 2009

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Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, A Stranger Here
Anti Records, April 7

Depression-era tunes revisited by 74-year-old folkie legend Jack Elliott, who could be considered the musical conduit between Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan, the latter of whom began referring to Elliott as his “dad” in response to Elliott’s introducing Dylan songs with “Here’s one that my son wrote.”

Though steeped in the spirit of the Dustbowl, heavy on the upright piano, the songs are missing the scratchy, alien mystique of the originals, having been recorded with the help of modern gizmos, but that sort of can’t be helped — the record is authentic in every other way. During the 1930s, there were no labels separating one genre from another, so these songs would have to be classified as country-blues folk, music to drag your feet to the welfare office by. Elliott’s croak is like that of Randy Newman another 20 years down the road, and with that you should have a clear picture of this juicy piece of NPR-bait and we can move on to the genius part, a shot from the past across our own societal bow: the album opens with Blind Lemon Jefferson’s “Rising High Water Blues,” which is where our troubles — the desperation of the downtrodden, the criminal negligence and ambivalence of the “haves and have-mores,” the ugly sound of the lucky majority of our collective community whining about being “put out” by the hopeless and homeless — really started, wasn’t it? A Eric W. Saeger