Ramblin' Jack Elliott
I Stand Alone
Record Review by Adam McKibbin
Like a punk album, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott’s I Stand Alone’s 16 tracks whiz past in 32:25. Elliott isn’t a man who unnecessarily lingers, and he gets right to the heart of the matter, even if it only takes 19 seconds or 31 seconds. The matter, in this case, is a colorful cocktail of folksy Americana: booze and old age; unfaithful wives, faithful doggies and assassinated presidents (James Garfield, in this case).
Elliott would be a good vocal coach—not because of his range, which fits comfortably into “folk singer” classification—but because of his immeasurable talent for wringing the charismatic most out of that range. He isn’t afraid to push it, even if it means growling or breaking. Despite the album’s title, he also isn’t afraid of sharing the stage. Two of the best songs are boosted by strong harmony vocals from very distinctive female singers: Lucinda Williams (“Careless Darling”) and erstwhile Sleater-Kinney vocalist Corin Tucker (“Driving Nails in My Coffin”). When he needs a rhythm section, up pops Flea on bass and X’s DJ Bonebrake on the drums.
Despite the modernized cast of characters, I Stand Alone still feels like a museum piece, like something that Alan Lomax would have stumbled upon during a trip through a Texas honkytonk. You can’t judge an album by its cover, but sometimes you can get a good start in judging it by its bio. Elliott inspired the careers of Paul McCartney and Mick Jagger, has counted Lou Reed, Andy Warhol, Bruce Springsteen and Beck as major fans, was called a “long-lost father” by Bob Dylan, and he himself was a protégé of Woody Guthrie. In other words, he doesn’t suck. But if Guthrie passed the torch to Dylan via Elliott…who the hell did Dylan give it to?
Even though only one song is from his own pen (the closing “Woody’s Last Ride,” which is really more like a short anecdote set to music), Elliott has no problem owning the material. “Old Blue” was written by Cisco Houston, but damned if it doesn’t sound like Elliott wrote it as homage to his own fallen pooch.
More by this writer:
Bob Dylan - Modern Times
Calexico - Garden Ruin
Frank Black - Honeycomb
Iron & Wine - Interview