Friends Of Mine

Ramblin' Jack Elliott

Hightone Records, 1998

http://www.ramblinjack.com

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 03/17/1998

For someone with his roots solidly steeped in the old style of country music, Ramblin' Jack Elliott sure has a wide variety of friends.

More of a combination folkie-cowboy rather than a pop-radio friendly country musician much like Hank Williams, Sr., Elliott calls upon some of the people he has helped influence over the years to compile Friends Of Mine, his latest disc. And while most of the general public might pass by this disc, those that do take the chance with it will be mildly surprised with the gentle ballads that compromise its 12 songs.

Elliott's vocals have been weathered by life on the road, but they never fail to deliver their message, nor do they distract the listener. Although it sometimes is questionable why Elliott would go after higher ranges, he somehow makes it work, as evidenced by his duet with protest-folk legend Arlo Guthrie on "Riding Down The Canyon".my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

And you have to admit that pairing Elliott with alternative godfather Tom Waits was a move of pure genius - their rendition of "Louise" makes me want to go check out more of Waits's work. Likewise, the mandolin work of Peter Rowan (though I admit I can't tell which vocals are his) is the perfect foil for Elliott's tongue-in-cheek recitation of "Me And Billy The Kid," a track I kept going back to.

But overall, the duets Elliott takes part in have an air of comfortable laziness about them - it just sounds like old friends getting together and singing a song or two. The two numbers with Jerry Jeff Walker are wonderful, while the only "trio" on the album (Elliott with Emmylou Harris and Nanci Griffith on "Rex's Blues") is a natural pairing that should be further explored. Even the duet with John Prine is as right as peanut butter and chocolate - who else would be better suited to sing "Walls Of Red Wing," besides maybe Merle Haggard?

There are a few links that are - well, they're not weak, but they're not as strong as the others. The pairing with Guy Clark on "Dark As A Dungeon" does nothing for me, and I have to admit I was disappointed to hear Bob Weir relegated to backup singing on a cover of the Grateful Dead's "Friend Of The Devil". (I also missed hearing David Grisman's mandolin, though Roy Rogers comes through with some work on the steel guitar.)

The two songs on Friends Of Mine which feature Elliott as a solo artist are hit-or-miss. The cover of "Reason To Believe" is quite enjoyable, while the spoken-word tribute to Bob Dylan, "Bleeker Street Blues," just doesn't evoke anything in me. (Elliott wrote this song while Dylan was hospitalized with heart problems last year.)

In one sense, it's more difficult to pigeonhold Friends Of Mine as "just country" or "just folk"... or just anything, for that matter. Elliott is able to take the best of both worlds and create a music that sounds as native to the West as it would in New York City.

Friends Of Mine shows the world that not only can country and folk merge, but even elements of rock can fit in quite well with this world. Here's hoping people are willing to give this troubador a chance to work his magic on their eardrums.

Rating: B

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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© 1998 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Hightone Records, and is used for informational purposes only.