Ramblin' Jack Elliott

The Lost Topic Tapes: Isle of Wight 1957

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Brooklyn's most famous folk cowboy, Ramblin' Jack Elliott was part genuine preservationist and part a walking, talking pastiche of Woody Guthrie crossed with a back-porch Appalachian moonshiner. The public act sometimes gets in the way of the fact that Elliott was an excellent interpreter of American traditional folk material, carefully representing its styles and rhythms on guitar and banjo, and he duplicated rural vocal nuances with purposeful precision (although it is somewhat irritating to hear Elliott call his banjo a "banjer" a couple times on this recording). If mentor Woody Guthrie was a true American folk artist, then Elliott is the photocopy of such an artist (while Bob Dylan is the postmodern reconstruction of same). Elliott was also blessed with perfect timing, since his Guthrie-derived act blossomed when Guthrie could no longer perform, Elliott thus becoming a proxy Guthrie, which is why he was regarded during the folk revival of the 1960s as more of an elder than a contemporary. He also toured Britain from 1955 to 1957 just as the skiffle boom was hitting there, and he had an enormous impact on the U.K. version of the folk revival. The recordings on this disc were originally recorded for Topic Records at a session held on a yacht at Cowes Harbour in the Isle of Wight in 1957, several cuts of which were issued as a British LP called Jack Takes the Floor. The rest of the tapes ended up lost in the National Sound Archive at the British Library in London for nearly 50 years until appearing here. The session finds Elliott doing a relaxed set of Guthrie, Jimmie Rodgers, and traditional tunes with his characteristic laconic tone, and while nothing here is startling, his arrangements of songs like "Candy Man," "John Henry," "Roll in My Sweet Baby's Arms," and "Old Blue" were much copied on both sides of the Atlantic in the 1960s.

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