Ramblin' Jack Elliott
Release Date: April 26th, 1962
Words by: Nathan Wood 4.8
April 29th, 2012
A large part of my professional life involves listening to country music. For some of you that sentence may sound like a living hell, and indeed at times it can be an arduous task as a large proportion of the music in the genre can be extremely tough to swallow. But when you're in a position that requires listening to country music as an important task of every workday, you quickly search out the elements of the genre you can relate to and enjoy.
Personally, I have discovered a great affinity for classic country music – Conway Twitty, Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson – these are well known songwriters with a reputation for the crafting of beautiful songs, regardless of genre. Whether they are tales of heartbreak, love and loss, running from the law – these artists were as much phenomenal storytellers as they were brilliant singers and musicians, and I'd hazard a guess that many of you can name more classic songs by these artists than you can from modern country stars like Tim McGraw, Trace Adkins or Brad Paisley.
That being established, I feel that I am in a fairly decent position to judge the work of Ramblin' Jack Elliott and his 1962 album Country Style. And, unfortunately for Jack, I ain't feelin' the twang he's got to sang.
Elliott is clearly a good performer and his guitar picking and vocal yodeling on this record are crisp and clear – he definitely resembles what, in my opinion, a classic country star should sound like. However, the songs on this album fail to deliver that one element that makes country music a true art form: heart.
There just isn't enough material on Country Style that gives a tug on the heartstrings like a 'Stand By Your Man,' or that sets fire in your belly like a 'Folsom Prison Blues.'
Nor does it crackle with the authenticity of a 'Hey, Hey Good Lookin' one of my favourite classic country tracks by Hank Williams, an artist that Elliott clearly tries to emulate on Country Style.
The record is just too cute; too twee. I was even compelled during my reviewing of the record to Google the Juno soundtrack to double check if there were any Ramblin' Jack songs in the track listing!
The only exception to this trend can be found in the track, 'Those Brown Eyes.' A story of a man lamenting the loss of the woman he loves to another man. His voice genuinely swells with longing and sorrow, and you feel Elliott's emotion wrap around the lyrics as he sings the song. Unfortunately it's sadness is further emphasized by the fact that it stands alone as the only quality track on a 13 track album.
As the title suggests, this record is more country "style" than it is true "country," and Ramblin' Jack Elliott won't be making my work playlist any time soon.