Legendary troubadour Ramblin’ Jack Elliott has entered the studio with producer Joe Henry (Bettye LaVette, Solomon Burke, Elvis Costello/Allen Toussaint) to record the follow-up to his Anti- Records debut, 2006’s I Stand Alone. The 77 year old Elliott sings and plays acoustic guitar, and is backed by a stellar collection of musicians, among them Van Dyke Parks, Brian Wilson’s collaborator on SMiLE and dozens of others from Joanna Newsome to U2, and David Hidalgo of Los Lobos fame on guitar.
Revered for his interpretive take on traditional American music, Elliott steps out of the cast that has shaped his legend -- 50+ years in the making -- on the new record. Dark and evocative landscapes crafted by Henry, a wonderful musician himself, construct a mood that is enhanced by Elliott’s world-scarred voice. Together, musician and producer examine a carefully selected number of pre-WWII blues songs in a wholly unique way.
"Jack Elliot had never approached this music before,” say Henry, “but it's important to understand that many of the country blues masters represented here were friends of Jack's. These blues share a tremendous amount -- in both form and substance -- with the folk music of the same era, the 1930s; and few people made any such distinctions during that day. Everybody was dipping from the same stream, be it Woody Guthrie or Tampa Red, Jimmie Rodgers or Furry Lewis; and Jack drank it all in. His approach is fresh but authentic. He's using an old language but he's speaking in the present tense."
One of the great American musical treasures, Elliott has had a rich and storied life. As a budding musician, Jack developed his voice under the tutelage of Woodrow Wilson Guthrie, truck hitching across the country off and on for a couple of years with Woody, carrying “only razors and guitars.” The pair eventually landed in the McCarthy-free enclave of Topanga Canyon CA in the 1950s, where Elliott played for James Dean and stole his girl (who later became Elliott’s first wife).
On the other coast, Elliott was also a fixture of the Greenwich Village scene, and once spent “three days and a lot of wine” listening to Jack Kerouac read On the Road. But it is his relationship with a young Bob Dylan that Elliott is perhaps most famous for. Though back in the 1960s the up-and-coming Dylan was often mistakenly dubbed the “son of Jack Elliott,” today Elliott simply states “Dylan learned from me the same way I learned from Woody.”
Scheduled for release early next year, the yet-untitled release from Ramblin Jack Elliott promises to be an original and compelling rendering of timeless songs by one of the most important figures in American music.