Something of an antidote to the trendy freak-folk movement’s navel gazing, the legendary Ramblin’ Jack Elliott’s I Stand Alone is a folk album of striking purity and adherence to the traditions of his mentor Woody Guthrie. Prefixes would be superfluous in describing its sound, really, and at odds with its simplicity. Valuable as an artifact of an increasingly out-dated genre, I Stand Alone is, first and foremost, a collection of unadorned folk narratives. Beyond several public domain songs (including “Rake & Ramblin’ Boy,” “Mr. Garfield,” and “Leaving Cheyenne”) and a rare self-penned offering (closer “Woody’s Last Ride,” recounting the last time he saw Guthrie in good health), Elliott has chosen songs from the likes of The Carter Family (the spirited “Engine 143”), Hoagie Carmichael (“Hong Kong Blues”), and Ernest Tubb (“Careless Darling”) that coalesce into an image of a lonesome drifter, an image which Elliott certainly has the first-person experiences to make convincing. That, at 75, he is still growing as a vital song interpreter—often criticized as a mere clone of Guthrie, Elliott’s deliveries on the raucous “Driving Nails In My Coffin” and the good-humored “Arthritis Blues” showcase a unique sense of phrasing—brings to the project the kind of conviction that’s always present in the best folk music. The roster of guest artists (Lucinda Williams, David Hidalgo, Flea, and Corin Tucker) speaks to the breadth of Elliott’s impact on modern popular music, but the quality and the spirit of I Stand Alone reveal why Elliott has been and continues to be such an influential figure.
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