Ramblin' Jack Elliott

South Coast

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Ramblin' Jack Elliott, this 1995 album (his first after more than a two-decade hiatus from the studio) goes to show, only gets better with age. The 70-something-year-old voice resonates here with the long miles and experience it once just impersonated, the distinctive guitar playing likewise aged into a rich and mesmerizing style. Elliott also reveals himself as one of the few truly enduring figures of the folk era, partly because his music is more honest, and as a result more timeless, than so much of that era's music. This anticipated, Grammy-winning return to the studio represents Elliott at the top of his game, rendering several of his standards (his repertoire is admittedly lean, and the same songs crop up on album after album) at some of their best. There is the usual run of Woody Guthrie songs here (four out of the 12 total tracks) alongside a mix of folk revival tunes, ballads, and blues. The old faithful "San Francisco Bay Blues" is appropriately older, slower, and world-wearier here than in Elliott's earlier, hell-for-leather performances, but it holds up well, proving itself worth at least one more listen. Elliott's real strength, though, comes through on songs like "South Coast" and "Buffalo Skinners," both of them haunting and desperate Western epics. Jack Elliott used to sound more like Woody Guthrie than Woody Guthrie, which itself was no small feat, but where lesser imitators would have ceased, Elliott kept on rambling, and finally sounds like nothing but Jack Elliott, a sound itself worthy of imitation and with its own place in the canon of American roots legends. With South Coast, Elliott's legend is irrevocably cemented.

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