Van Dyke Parks and Los Lobos' David Hidago lend a hand on storied songwriter Ramblin' Jack Elliott's second album this decade, "A Stranger Here."
Due April 7th via Anti-, the set finds Elliott, 77, working with producer Joe Henry to interpret Depression-era blues songs. Parks contributes piano and vibraphone, while Hidago offers acoustic guitar and accordion.
"The record company selected about 15 old blues songs that I might choose to learn, and I was listening to that CD about four or five times a day for three months," Elliott says of the origin of the project. "I got a good feel for some of the songs, but I didn't memorize them. So I was a bit nervous, because I hadn't memorized a single song. But I tried to give a good reading, despite all that half-assed preparation."
The album was recorded in just four days, a pace Elliott attributes to the backing band. "They followed me; they were good listeners, good followers and gave a really great back up," he says. "It was so thrilling; I just dug into it."
Grateful Dead fans will recognize "Death Don't Have No Mercy," a staple in the seminal band's early sets. Other standouts include the Son House classic "Grinnin' in Your Face" and a marching, dark version of Blind Willie Johnson's "Soul of a Man."
The material here reflects the current economic crisis, a fact that's not lost on Elliott. "I think they're trying to deter people from getting too scared," he says. "The word 'recession' is just a polite way trying to make it sound nicer. When I was born, it was the worst year of the depression -- 1931. But I was too young to notice anything."
Here is the track list for "A Stranger Here":
"Rising High Water Blues"
"Death Don't Have No Mercy"
"Soul of a Man"
"Richland Women Blues"
"Grinnin' in Your Face"
"The New Strangers Blues"
"Falling Down Blues"
"How Long Blues"
"Please Remember Me"