Those who have known Ramblin’ Jack Elliott’s work over these past 50-odd years won’t be surprised by what he offers on I Stand Alone. A few guests show up, but their contributions are minimal: Lucinda Williams moans along on “Careless Darling”, just a step behind Jack on the microphone, and when they end, it’s without fanfare — a couple of absent-minded strums and that’s it. Corin Tucker from Sleater-Kinney drops in, and so does Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers. David Hidalgo of Los Lobos squeezes some norteño accordion on Butch Hawes’ “Arthritis Blues”, but not a lot, just a few notes here and there.
The point is, Elliott does pretty much stand alone. He seems to like it when somebody sings or plays with him, but it’s up to them to tag along as he stretches a few extra beats into a verse, or yodels and drones on Cisco Houston’s mournful “Blue”, the definitive American dog song.
All you need to hear, really, is Elliott’s assured guitar picking and that voice of his — scratchy and weathered like paint peeling from the side of a storm-swept, sun-baked barn. He can summon ghosts from the dark clouds of memory on “Woody’s Last Ride”, or cackle like a sly rascal after intoning his own epitaph on “Rake & Ramblin’ Boy”: “When I die, don’t bury me at all. Just place me away in alcohol, my .44 put by my feet. Tell everyone I’m just asleep.”
He is, then, Ramblin’ Jack, no more or less — and irreplaceable.