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Monday, May 15th, 2006

Boston Globe covers Ramblin' Jack Elliot show

Elliott's a ramblin' man, and his fans are much better for it: Ramblin' Jack Elliott isn't just a folk icon who's been around since Woody Guthrie and inspired five decades of fellow musicians. At nearly 75, he's the coolest grandfather you never had. Consider: Jack went hang gliding the other day. Jack's off to the UK for a ''hellbent" tour of England starting Sunday. Jack does killer impersonations of Bob Dylan.

At Club Passim Monday night, Elliott gave a performance as wry and immediate as anyone one-third his age.

Alone and peering out from below an ivory-colored cowboy hat that tamped down a tangle of thick gray hair, Elliott said he was embarking on his ''mud-season tour" -- ''bringing sunshine to New England, a thankless task."

True to his nickname, Elliott can spin some fabulous tales, sometimes with 15-minute interludes between each song. He remembers the good old days with Derroll Adams and Big Bill Broonzy, but he's also aware of renewed interest in his music from younger generations. (As if the packed audience, with a middle-aged woman knitting across from a 20-something man in a Pixies T-shirt, didn't make this clear already.)

Elliott's excellent upcoming album, ''I Stand Alone," will be released in July on the hip indie label Anti- (home to folks such as Neko Case and Blackalicious). ''I don't know what they're anti, but I'm all for it," Elliott quipped.

He sang a handful of songs from the new album, which features collaborations with Lucinda Williams, Flea, and others, and part of his set's urgency came from these new songs. To be certain, they're old as dirt, but they're also songs -- ''not for the tourists," as Elliott called them -- that he stopped performing decades ago for whatever reason.

A song like ''Rake and Ramblin' Boy" couldn't be more suited for Elliott's voice, which, craggy and weathered, now befits a line such as, ''I am a rake, but a ramblin' boy/ There's many a cities I did enjoy."

He dedicated Elvis Presley's ''Old Shep" to the memory of his departed canine companion Caesar, a faithful hound dog who used to steal the show from Elliott with his stage antics. Of course, this is Ramblin' Jack, so who knows how much of that story is true?

And how, exactly, do you steal the show from a man as dynamic and engaging as Elliott? On Dylan's ''Don't Think Twice, It's All Right," Elliott's fluid finger-picking was a marvel, matched only by his speak-sing vocals that cracked and crooned in all the right places. He recalled how Dylan, with light reflecting off of his ''halo," decided to ''relinquish" the song to Elliott after hearing him perform it at an open mike.

No permission was needed, though. It was all Elliott's.

By James Reed, Globe Staff | May 11, 2006

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