The Long Ride
Hightone Records, 1999
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 10/01/1999
When we last heard from Ramblin' Jack Elliott, he was gathering some old friends around him to sing songs he loved and to tell stories in a way only this old folksy cowboy could. Now, although many of the duets are gone, Elliott has more stories to tell -- and The Long Road suggests that we listen to them, if only to enjoy an artform not often heard anymore.
Elliott might not have the smoothest vocal delivery in the industry, but he knows how to present the goods in a way that makes it sound like each word is a surprise Christmas gift. While this technique doesn't always work perfectly, there's a better than average chance that when Elliott has something to say, his message is going to stick.
After a surprisingly weak start with "Connection," the fun begins when Elliott and labelmate Tom Russell get together on "Cup Of Coffee" -- which turns out to be more of a running monologue than a song, but that's okay. To hear the interplay between these two artists is interesting, and one has to wonder if this song was improvised on the spot in the studio.
Other old friends drop in to say "howdy" on The Long Ride. Dave Van Ronk adds his unique vocal style to "St. James Infirmary," while Dave Alvin (another labelmate of Elliott's) provides vocals on "East Virginia Blues." Maria Muldaur (remember her from "Midnight At The Oasis"? I hate that friggin' song!) adds a bit of twang to "Picture From Life's Other Side," and Elliott turns in a version that shines. (I wonder if it means something that this is the second version of this tune I've heard in a matter of days.)
Regrettably, not everything on The Long Ride hits the mark, though I'd be hard-pressed to say that it was Elliott's fault. In fact, I can't explain why songs like "Take Me Back And Try One More Time" and "Connection" just don't set my ears on fire the way others like "Pony" and "Diamond Joe" do. Still, Elliott outnumbers the weak songs on this disc by about five to one, so that's not a bad average.
There is one thing I am left wondering about. Elliott closes this disc with a cover of Bob Dylan's "With God On Our Side." (I just finished The Times They Are A-Changin' the other day, so the timing on this was amazing.) I do have to wonder why Dylan doesn't make a guest appearance on this track; after all, it seems to be suggested that Elliott and Dylan are at least casual acquaintances. I would have been very interested to have heard what a duet between these artists would have sounded like.
The Long Ride might evoke more memories of Hank Williams than Garth Brooks, but Elliott does help to keep the storyteller of country music past alive. For that alone, we should be grateful. For another album of highly enjoyable music, we should be even more grateful.