Ramblin’ Jack Elliott is the bridge from Woody Guthrie to Bob Dylan, mentored by the former, and taking the latter under his tutelage in the 1960s. Elliott rightly says, “Dylan learned from me the same way I learned from Woody.”
But for Elliott, his impact on the musical world didn’t simply stop with his education of the young Robert Zimmerman from Minnesota; no, the 77-year-old living legend has continued to reshape the musical landscape over which he has trodden for so long. After a 20-year break, Elliott released his first album of new material in 1989, and since, he has released albums that mine that rich vein of American folk that he has led for so long. His recent switch to the Anti- label (home to a wide range of artists from Tom Waits to Bob Mould to Neko Case) has revitalized the aging troubadour; his 2006 album I Stand Alone was his strongest album in years.
A Stranger Here, Elliott’s new album continues this upswing. This time Elliott takes a step-away from the country-folk road that has been his home for so long, and wanders down a different path, reinterpreting the country-blues songs from his Depression-era youth. On A Stranger Here he tackles songs by blues-masters Blind Lemon Jefferson, Son House, and the Rev. Gary Davis, channeling the deep-seeded soul of each of tune. With his commanding voice, each song resonates the hardscrabble experiences of Elliott’s colorful life.
For Elliott, A Stranger Here is just another giant step for the legendary folk-singer on his never-ending journey into the musical unknown. He has taken one old American style of music (old-time country blues), added it to another (his genre defining voice, and his take on folk), and created something rich and new that is delivered with that hint of old-time soul that gives them their life.
A Stranger Here is out now on Anti-.