Jack rambles on
Passim's, Cambridge, Mass., May 11
By Jeffrey B. Remz
CAMBRIDGE, MA - In considering Ramblin' Jack Elliott, one usually looks towards the past.
After all, this was the New York City native who gained fame as part of Bob Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue about two decades ago.
But Elliott's musical careet not only is not planted firmly in the past. There may be some looking ahead to do, at least based on the past year.
For starters, he released the very fine "South Coast" disc on the small St. Paul label, Red House.
The disc was his first in 27 years!
And more importantly, he received a Grammy award for the best traditional folk album, even if "South Coast" really is a spare sounding country disc.
That was enough to attract an SRO crowd at the small Club Passim nightclub.
Yet, the show turned out to be a mixed bag. The main problem was that Eliott's voice was limited. That was to be expected, but there was more of a soothing quality, a certain prettiness to it on the CD, which only rarely came through during the 80-minute show. Maybe it a a case of too many shows cramped into too small a time frame, wreaking havoc on his vocals.
The worn quality to the voice came through on only the second song of the evening, "The Buffalo Skinners (On the Trail of the Buffalo)," one of the gems off "South Coast."
Elliott mixed his spare sounding, laid back country with blues. And he acquitted himself well, hitting the mark with "Arthritis Blues," which had a good sense of humor. Ledbelly's "How Long Blues" was another standout, in a more straight-ahead blues rendering.
Elliott combined real singing with more a sing-song quality, such as the title track from "South Coast." He gave a fine introduction to the song, saying he had learned it some 43 years ago. The only problm was that sometimes Ramblin' Jack clearly showed why he earned that nickname.
Despite the shortcomings, Elliott redeemed himself with "Don't Think Twice, It's Allright" the Dylan song. The tune was clearly the most melodic and warmest of his offerings.The Dylan connection came through clearly with their phrasings and intonations very similarly sounding. Eliott brought them up during his between song patter, but it was not a case of showing off connections. One could early hear the connection.
After all these years, it's good to see Elliott receive recogntion for his achievements. It's just too bad he couldn't amplify them in concert.