Ramblin' Jack Elliott

Jack Elliott

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When Ramblin' Jack Elliott's name comes up in folk magazines, he's usually identified as a Guthrie copy who later passed on his skills of impersonation to Bob Dylan. This is true to a point, but a listener doesn't have to check out but three or four tracks on Jack Elliott to find out what an original oddball he is. It's true, he does cover Guthrie's "1913 Massacre" here, and he tends to prefer traditional material like "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" and "More Pretty Girls" over originals. But his extravagant vocals deliver this material in the strangest, most startling manner. The listener can never be sure whether he's sending up a song like "Roll on Buddy" or just determined to turn tradition on its head. The most fun and fascinating piece here is "Guabi Guabi," an African folk song that Elliott learned by copying the vocal inflections. Of course, in his typical fashion, he talks through part of song explaining that he couldn't understand a certain section of the original. In his off the cuff, just for the hell of it way, Elliott has more in common with the Holy Modal Rounders than traditionalists like Pete Seeger or the New Lost City Ramblers. Jack Elliott manages to pay its respects to public domain material while still being entertaining.