The style of folk that Ramblin’ Jack Elliott plays during “Engine 143” is something that reminds me of Pete Seeger. There is little to the tracks on “I Stand Alone” besides the distinctive vocals and the guitar, which is decidedly a second fiddle to the aforementioned vocals. The vocals on each track are those that individuals could sing along with after just listening to the CD two or three time. The timeless quality of “I Stand Alone” is something that means that individuals in 1950 or 2050 could find commonalities with their daily life and what Elliott sings about during the disc.
Individuals could levy the charge that the album is tinny, but this is due to the fact that the production does not conform to the current trend of maximizing volume. Rather, the production of the disc tries to go and lift up Elliott’s voice and separate it from the rest of the music on the track, which makes the output bifurcated. Individuals can take the disc as a whole, or focus on one of the two different threads that run through “I Stand Alone”. It is really as if individuals have two different discs to listen to, and the replay value is thus multiplied further. Each of the songs on “I Stand Alone” have an allure to them that has to be partially due to the charisma of Ramblin’ Jack.
While the vocals that hit listeners during songs like “Arthritis Blues” may seem to be uneven or even out of key, this is part of the disc. Elliott’s vocals are not just there to tell a story (a duty which they do end up doing well), but also to add another specific style of harmony to this disc. If Elliott was sat in a hitmaker’s studio and had the compositions on this disc modified to the current norms of pop music, what makes this album so great would disappear by the first rough draft of the disc. This is not an aberration, not an anachronism, but true American music done in a timeless way that practically any fan of music will wish to pick up after listening to just a few tracks. Even though the disc only breaks the half-hour mark by a few minutes, “I Stand Alone” will stick with listeners for a long time after listening in; make sure to make space among the Cast King and Son House discs. Elliott deserves such company.
Top Tracks: Driving Nails in My Coffin, Mr. Garfield
Ramblin’ Jack Elliott – I Stand Alone / 2006 Anti- / 16 Tracks / http://www.ramblinjack.com / http://www.anti.com / Reviewed 25 May 2006