Ramblin’ man gets the Depression-era blues

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Ramblin’ Jack Elliott – A Stranger Here

At 77, and firmly established as the link between Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan, Jack Elliott could be excused a bit of laurel-resting. Instead, inspired by their collaboration on I’m Not There’s soundtrack, Elliott and producer Joe Henry have chosen to explore the pre-war country blues. Stylistically, it’s a slight departure from Elliott’s usual purview.

There’s a tussle between frailty and wisdom in the performances, with wisdom winning, mostly. The songs are well chosen (Rev Gary Davis’ “Death Don’t Have No Mercy” stands out), and the band – including Van Dyke Parks and David Hidalgo of Los Lobos – create a woozy, tumbledown feel, as if they are playing from a carnival float. Elliott is better at world-weariness than he is at sass, but has enough guile to mould the songs in his own image.

ALASTAIR McKAY

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