The Ballad of Ramblin' Jack
Vanguard Records, A Welk Music Group Company
A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
Upstarts take notes. This is how you do a folk album. |
Get one of the most recognizable voices in America (Johnny Cash) to introduce the artist, Ramblin' Jack Elliott. Throw in other huge names on backing instrumentals: Norman Blake, Randy Scruggs, Sonny Terry and Derroll Adams. Include rich vocal appearances by Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie and Odetta. Make it a live album so that all the familiarity and good-humored respect among this esteemed group is shared with the rest of us. Then, just to really impress people, let the President of the United States pay homage to your star. You've got the makings of another classic Vanguard release, The Ballad of Ramblin' Jack (2000).
This soundtrack, from the movie by the same name, is daughter Aiyana Elliott's tribute to her father whom, throughout her lifetime, she watched rise from rodeo cowboy status to living folk-legend. The documentary film includes rare footage of a definitive time in cowboy Jack's life: being on the road with Woody Guthrie, even living with him for over a year. Jack's story is one of constant travel, even today. To complete the work, Aiyana went on tour with him for two years; collecting stories to accompany the film clips, priceless spoken word outtakes from vintage live performance footage and these songs for the score. The results are recorded on this 20 cut compilation.
Early work, including the traditional folk tune, Railroad Bill, sung as a duet with musical role model and songster soul mate Woody Guthrie, appear here. It is the only known recorded studio session of the two of them together (1953). The tune becomes even more poignant when you realize that the tracks represent one of the final recording sessions Woody completed before succumbing to Huntington's disease.
Jack's live performance of San Francisco Bay Blues" on Pete Seeger's 60's era television show Rainbow Quest is included, as are more recent on- and off-stage appearances at The Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, NV: Cuckoo, and Car Song, (1998). He covers a priceless collection of five Guthrie tunes with spirited and genuine devotion to his mentor's contribution to folk music.
This album is a rarity; obviously the highest priority wasn't commercial success-it's too good for that. Stage banter between talented buddies, singing by 'the Prince of Folk' good enough to give you goosebumps, and spare, down-home music making, condemn this excellent story album to non-commercial obscurity. Thankfully, Vanguard recognizes quality when it hears it and grabbed the chance to put, The Ballad of Ramblin' Jack out here for the rest of us to enjoy. Thanks, Vanguard.