Inter-war blues is territory that’s already been explored by Ry Cooder and Taj Mahal, but it’s occupied comfortably by Ramblin’ Jack. At 77 he’s just about old enough to remember it first time round but, just as importantly, he learned at the feet of the great Depression balladeer Woody Guthrie.
Elliott’s timeworn voice – sometimes fragile, sometimes strong – delivers this well chosen selection of material over arrangements that range from New Orleans marching band to old-timey string instruments and accordion. On a couple of tracks the brass bass seems to overwhelm the basement studio that producer Joe Henry recorded in, resulting in a muddy mix, though most of it is clear and well separated.
There’s some superb support playing (is that Van Dyke Parks tickling the ivories in a Dr John style?) and it seems appropriate to have this material put back on the table in these financially straitened times. The 10 songs are more How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times & Live than Fishing Blues but, though they’re of the Depression, they’re not depressing – like the blues generally, the survival of hardship is celebrated as an affirmation of life, and Ramblin’ Jack has done enough living for two lifetimes.