Ramblin' Jack Elliott - I Stand Alone (Cover Artwork)

Ramblin' Jack Elliott

Ramblin' Jack Elliott: I Stand AloneI Stand Alone (2006)
Anti- Records

Reviewer Rating: 4.5

Contributed by: greg0rbgreg0rb
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This is a folk record, let me just get that out of the way right now. I know, I know, this is PUNKnews, but let me make some connections for you all. First, it's on Anti-, an Epitaph offshoot, so you got that. Then you've got punk-folker Billy Bragg who called folk legend Woody Guthrie ??the first punk rocker,' and undisputedly ??punk' bands Anti-Flag and Dropkick Murphys who have covered Guthrie's songs. Well, the 75-year-old Jack Elliott was mentored and befriended by Guthrie himself, and he carries on Guthrie's style. Then there's Elliott's own mentee Bob Dylan, who will always be cool. Current bands who show folk music influences more so than others include Rilo Kiley, Bright Eyes, Wilco, the Weakerthans, Iron & Wine and Devandra Banhart. The last in that list invited Elliott to play All Tomorrow's Parties in the U.K. earlier this year, and apparently he killed. Over the years, Elliott has shared the stage with countless acts, one notable and unexpected one being the Velvet Underground back in the Warhol era. Other important figures paying homage to the folk genre are Bruce Springsteen with his tribute to Pete Seeger (also mentored by Guthrie), and Greg Graffin with his Cold as the Clay. If any of this previous music interests you at all, the next logical step is to go straight to a more authentic source, such as Elliott (or Guthrie, Seeger, etc). While they are not considered ??punk' to most, as you can see by my ramblings, there can be connections made, and anyway it's great music so who cares about the label? Onto the album.

Most of the songs on I Stand Alone are Elliott solo with guitar, and the best word to describe it would be ??captivating.' The music is merely support for the vocals, and Elliott's weathered yet expressive voice will capture your attention, from the snarled yell of "Call Me a Dog" to the spoken whisper of "Woody's Last Ride." On the latter tune and the remainder of the songs, we find Elliott backed by a surprisingly cool group of musicians including Flea, Corin Tucker (Sleater-Kinney), Nels Cline (recently of Wilco), and DJ Bonebreak (X). These musicians add but never steal the show, pumping up "Driving Nails in My Coffin" and the all-too-short Leadbelly tune "Jean Harlow" while still letting Elliott's voice shine through.

Elliott, like Seeger, is more of an interpreter of older material than a songwriter, but the covers are as good as originals to most of the readers here (myself included), since I can assume that we are not schooled in our country's musical heritage as we should be and have never heard these songs. Picking a great set of songs, even if you didn't write them, is a talent in itself. I've heard the term ??collector' applied to him and it fits -- he finds and preserves songs that are rarely heard or long forgotten. He turns in inspired versions of many traditional, public-domain songs as well as tunes penned by A.P. Carter, patriarch of the famous Carter Family ("Engine 143"), Hoagie Carmichael ("Hong Kong Blues"), and Ernest Tubb ("Careless Darling") among others. He delivers one original as the album's closer, the aforementioned "Woody's Last Ride," which has a different, atmospheric sound, but is equally as captivating. He speaks briefly of his last adventure with Guthrie traveling cross-country in a Buick, with their only spending money made playing music for tips in a city square -- a mere $11.44 that got them across the country.

Guthrie and Seeger delved into political and social issues often, but Elliott steers clear of all that here (perhaps a mark against my connecting him to ??punk'), opting instead for a set of plain-spoken songs about love and life's troubles. But like Guthrie and Seeger, who both wrote and performed children's songs, Elliott enjoys being a bit lighthearted like on the 19-second "My Old Dog & Me" where he proclaims that his old dog "likes his meat / pork chops are a special treat." The funny and age-appropriate selection "Arthritis Blues" is my favorite track here, complete with accordion by David Hidalgo of Los Lobos.

My one complaint would be how short the album is. It's a mere 32 minutes, due to 10 of the 16 songs not hitting the 2-minute mark. There were definite possibilities for fleshing out the old tunes, especially through the use of the backup musicians. But then again, this is Elliott's show and as it stands, you hear his voice through almost the entire album without many instrumental sections. Elliott's voice is what makes this album great, so perhaps it's best this way. But I still I want more.

I Stand Alone is not punk on the surface, but it can connected with some creativity. Even if you don't agree on the connection, it's amazing music nonetheless. This would be a great starting point for anyone interested in the history of American music, as Elliott brings a sound of the past to us. After that, you can use it as a springboard to the older music of his mentor, the artists that he covers, or countless other important artists.


People who liked this also liked:
Neutral Milk Hotel - In The Aeroplane Over The SeaColossal - Welcome The ProblemsMy Bloody Valentine - EP's 1988-1991Islands - A Sleep & A ForgettingDead Ellington  - Refuse EPPretty Girls Make Graves - The New RomanceThe Fagettes - Volumes 1 & 2 [cassette]The Smiths - The SmithsBeach House - BloomCommunity Currency  - Labor of Love

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Fine Print: The following comments are owned by whoever posted them. We are not respon sible for them in any way. Seriously.
Anonymous (September 9, 2006)

"This is a folk record, let me just get that out of the way right now. I know, I know, this is PUNKnews..."

jokes? while punknews should be commended for the breadth of its coverage, stuff like this can be considered more "punk" than about half the bands that feature here.

i'm not being sarcastic by the way.

justahippie (September 9, 2006)

Great review. I haven't heard this album but I dig Dylan and Guthrie so I'll check this out.

Now, there is no reason to justify your review, as someone else said, to all these dumb people who think they are punk and say this "doesn't belong". Isn't punk going against the trends, being who you want to be, not giving a shit for convention and fitting in? So why, to be punk, must you conform and fit into a specific group, resemble a sterotype? Mohawk, torn clothes, play fast music? Do you people not realize that any label whether it be punk or hippie or jock limits your ability to be a human being?

I just think it's VERY ironic that punk was created as a way to escape conformity and now the only way to be punk is to conform and fit within the specific criteria laid out by some magical punk entity and treated as a sort of punk law? Punk, in today's society, is a marketing term used to get kids to buy something because they want to be different or belong to something. Really, it's ridiculous. Fuck it. Stop worrying about if a band or person is punk and worry if it's worth the time of day, if it's good or not.

Scruffy (September 8, 2006)

If anything pre-1976 can be reviewed, and stuff like the Stooges and the New York Dolls has been, I see no reason why this could not be.

Anonymous (September 8, 2006)

give me a break. this does not belong.

Anonymous (September 8, 2006)

First I heard of him other than Corb Lund's CD.

Anonymous (September 8, 2006)

no explanation needed. jack knew and played with woody guthrie, and tutored a young bob dylan. and he is a fucking outlaw. he is more punk rock than anyone you think is.

baseball (September 8, 2006)

great job reviewing

definitely want to check this out

Scruffy (September 8, 2006)

I like the justification at the beginning of the article, because it feels like it's not just a justification for this specific album being reviewed. It's really the best explanation I've seen for why so-called non-punk albums get reviewed. And it's gosh darn eloquent.

kirbypuckett (September 8, 2006)

Great review.

- Kirby

Mute98 (September 8, 2006)

ive heard a few tracks and enjoy it, though i prefer gutherie

Fuzzy (September 8, 2006)

Great Great Great Great Great album.

Don't feel the need to justify your writing of a review.

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