The Lost Topic Tapes: Cowes Harbour 1957

Ramblin' Jack Elliott

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The Lost Topic Tapes: Cowes Harbour 1957 Review

by Steve Leggett

Born in Brooklyn, Jack Elliott reinvented himself as a cowboy folksinger in the Woody Guthrie mold (but without Guthrie's particular talent for recasting folk melodies into new compositions), and was adept at catching the nuances of rural American singing styles. He did indeed like to ramble, and he landed in London in 1955 just as the skiffle boom was taking off, signing to Topic Records. The songs on this disc were all recorded for Topic at a session on a yacht at Cowes Harbour on the Isle of Wight in 1957. Some of the tunes were issued on a 10" LP called Jack Takes the Floor and the rest were stowed away in the British Library in London, which was where a Topic staffer discovered them nearly 50 years later. The sequence here is a fairly typical Elliott set of the time, made up of Guthrie tunes (including a fine version of "Tom Joad"), traditional American folk songs ("Streets of Laredo," "Tom Dooley"), and other pieces that fit his style, like his wonderful cover of Libba Cotten's "Freight Train." Things get a little affected when Elliott talks between songs, but when he sings, it all works, and his guitar playing is always simple, appropriate, and top-notch.

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