Rock Roundup

The Return of Ramblin’ Jack Elliott

A huge influence on Dylan and others, the legendary folk singer comes to town.

By - Sep 1st, 2014 01:42 pm
Sign-up for the Urban Milwaukee daily email
Ramblin’ Jack Elliott. Photo from

Ramblin’ Jack Elliott. Photo from

Week’s Top Show: Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Shank Hall, Friday, September 5

Jack Elliott reportedly didn’t get that “Ramblin’” nickname for the miles he’s traveled or the wanderlust in his soul. According to fellow folksinger Odetta, it was her mother who remarked (“he sure can ramble”) on the discursive nature of Elliott’s conversation and unconsciously supplied the moniker.

It is thus probably just as well that Elliott did not become a doctor, as his Brooklyn-Jewish parents wanted him to do, and instead followed his fascination with Woody Guthrie and cowboys into a career that encourages good storytelling and doesn’t force the teller to rush right to the point.

It was also a good choice from the viewpoints of those whom Elliott has influenced in his 83 years, including Bob Dylan, who referred to Jack as “King of the Folksingers” in the first volume of his Chronicles memoir. Johnny Cash, the Grateful Dead, Pete Seeger and the Rolling Stones are (or were) among his other devotees.

Unlike Cash, Elliott’s later years haven’t brought forth a burst of appreciative younger fans or the patronage of Rick Rubin, but his most recent album, 2009’s A Stranger Here, did have the excellent studio talents of Joe Henry and picked up a Grammy, while Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea and Wilco guitarist Nels Cline were two of the many hepcats on 2006’s I Stand Alone.

Elliott can still tell a story, and age not only has lent him the authority that maturity sometimes confers but also has granted fans a little extra patience for the tangents and digressions the older gentleman might pursue. Ramblin’ Jack surely appreciates the wise saying that the journey often matters more than the destination.


Tuesday, September 2: The Secret Sisters, Turner Hall Ballroom

T-Bone Burnett, whose long list of production credits includes the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack and albums by Elvis Costello and John Mellencamp, has become the latest behind-the-boards punching bag for music critics. Mainly, it seems, because his sonic vision of Americana has grown too predictable and tasteful.

Which could be true, but he’s also helped the Secret Sisters, a.k.a. Muscle Shoals siblings Lydia and Laura Rogers, record two albums of increasingly exciting folk, country and rock. And if their harmonies redeemed the dustier parts of their 2010 debut, they broaden the musical horizon on this year’s Put Your Needle Down. Perhaps they can teach Burnett how to take chances again.


Friday, September 5: Sylvan Esso, Pabst Theater

Indie-rock fans could build a “Six Degrees of…” game around Bon Iver frontman Justin Vernon. For example, Sylvan Esso features Nick Sanborn, who is also a member of Megafaun, the band that formed when Vernon left what had been DeYarmond Edison.

Yet with Mountain Man singer Amelia Meath as the other primary member of Sylvan Esso, the project wouldn’t otherwise easily connect to the imaginary game, because its homonymous debut LP from earlier this year resembles chill-out electronica guided by Feist-like idiosyncrasies more than it echoes any of Vernon’s current projects.

There will be a post-show party at the Cactus Club, where SE was originally booked, for those who want to shake it after this:


Saturday, September 6: Stargazer Lilies and Dead Leaf Echo at Cactus Club

There is a flower known as the “Stargazer lily,” so the name isn’t merely a shoe gazing rock conceit for the Pennsylvania duo of John Cep and Kim Field. They’ve taken the creative remnant of an earlier band, Soundpool, and, on the Lilies’ debut LP, last year’s We Are the Dreamers, turned it into music that feels like cotton candy laced with hallucinogenic mushrooms.

Dead Leaf Echo’s similar mix of artistic chemicals produces an effect that sounds closer to reality, probably because the New York indie band has a stronger rhythmic foundation and because it displays enthrallment with the 4AD label’s love of New Wave pop melodies. One could even dance to the echo of dead leaves on the latest release, this year’s True.Deep.Sleeper EP.


Monday, September 8: Glass Animals, Turner Hall Ballroom

My recent experience plowing through Listen,the latest album from the Kooks, lends further credence to pet theory of mine that the brashest and most bombastic elements of Britpop—that 1990s movement that brought us both Oasis and Blur—are resurging.

My recent experience listening to the first album from Oxfordshire-based quartet Glass Animals’ introductory full-length, this year’s Zaba, provides hope that any threat of a Britpop rebirth will continue to be met by polyrhythmic and polymathic bands that do not try to bury their subtlety and sexiness with chav cheekiness (to use the UK slang).

A song called “Gooey,” relatively subtle? I exhort, you decide:

0 thoughts on “Rock Roundup: The Return of Ramblin’ Jack Elliott”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Can’t wait to see Ramblin’ Jack Elliot (Bob Dylan liked him too)!

  2. Anonymous says:

    Can’t wait to see Ramblin’ Jack Elliott at Shank Hall! Long ago, when I read that Dylan had liked his work, I went out and bought some of his CDs, and was intrigued and entranced!

Leave a Reply

You must be an Urban Milwaukee member to leave a comment. Membership, which includes a host of perks, including an ad-free website, tickets to marquee events like Summerfest, the Wisconsin State Fair and the Florentine Opera, a better photo browser and access to members-only, behind-the-scenes tours, starts at $9/month. Learn more.

Join now and cancel anytime.

If you are an existing member, sign-in to leave a comment.

Have questions? Need to report an error? Contact Us