Music

Ramblin Jack Elliott: I Stand Alone

The album's 16 tracks clock in at a mere 32-and-a-half minutes, but there's a fullness to the disc because Elliott gives it all on every song, no matter the length. There really isn't a bad cut on the record.


Ramblin' Jack Elliott

I Stand Alone

Label: Anti-
US Release Date: 2006-07-11
UK Release Date: 2006-07-10
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iTunes

Ramblin' Jack's an old man who has spent more than five decades of his 75 years on this earth as a performer, but he's not as old as the lyrics to the songs on his new disc indicate. Elliott sings about coal-powered steam trains, the shooting of U.S. President James Garfield, Model-T Fords, and other things that pre-date even his existence on the planet. These references and Elliott's gruff vocals give the impression that he's been around forever and seen and done it all, but it's all a bluff. The ramblin' man's just taking a page from Woody Guthrie, a man who sang about happenings that occurred before he was born, like the Ludlow Massacre and Haymarket Riots, in a raspy voice as if he were there to show a solidarity with the workers of the past and present. Elliott learned his lessons first-hand as a former running buddy and friend of Guthrie back in the '50s.

While Guthrie may have had a social or political purpose for grounding his material in an earlier era, Elliott's just showing off his unique place as a survivor from an earlier era. After all, the album's title, I Stand Alone, does not come from the name of a particular song or lyric. He's proclaiming that he's the only survivor. The rambler's just telling you a tall tale, which is part of the charm of the American folk tradition to which he and Guthrie belonged and helped invigorate. Seventy-five ain't that old anymore. Just ask the 87-year-old Pete Seeger, who roamed the nation with Guthrie when Elliott was a Brooklyn teenager. Elliott's much more of a contemporary with singers like Willie Nelson. While Nelson makes old tunes seem new or even timeless, Elliott makes songs written by people Nelson has also covered (i.e., the Carter Family, Leadbelly, Hoagy Carmichael) sound like they were dug out of the ground like ancient ruins.

That's no slam against Elliott. He's a great interpreter of song -- he's just mining a different tradition that requires a certain amount of bullshit and bravado. The breadth and depth of talent on this new disc show why musicians like Bob Dylan, Jerry Garcia, and Lou Reed have loudly proclaimed their admiration for the man. Or why notable newer all-star talents like Lucinda Williams, Los Lobos' David Hidalgo, Sleater-Kinney's Corin Tucker, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers' Flea have joined Elliott on this release.

Elliott sings with gusto, and despite his limited range -- or maybe because of it -- he's not afraid to hit the high notes, growl a lyric, or even jump right on a fast lick. The amazing thing is that he nails 'em every time. Of course, Elliott has enough sense to let the words to the songs do most of the work. He croons the honky-tonk standard "Drivin' Nails in My Coffin" like he's taking sips of whiskey between each phrase. He yodels the name of Cisco Houston's good dog "Blue" as if he really mourned that old mutt. Elliott tells of the man who's "Leaving Cheyenne" with a song on his lips as if he knows the hardships of a hardscrabble life on the Western plains with good ponies, wild women, and bar-room fights.

Some of the cuts here are mere wisps of songs. "Jean Harlow" clocks in at about half a minute, while "My Old Dog and Me" lasts a mere 19 seconds. The brevity of these tunes adds to the disc's appeal, as one never knows how long Elliott will string the listener along. The longest track is Elliott's four minute-plus cover of Butch Hawes' pained "Arthritis Blues", which shows the healing power of shared misery. There's no doubt the narrator feels the pain in his joints, but that he also enjoys telling you about it -- and his cures for it like "applejack", "gin", and "opium".

The album's 16 tracks clock in at a mere 32-and-a-half minutes, but there's a fullness to the disc because Elliott gives it all on every song, no matter the length. There really isn't a bad cut on the record. His duet with Lucinda Williams on the bluesy "Careless Darling" will probably garner the most attention because of her stature as an artist and the quality of their performance. Their voices blend together well because of a shared rawness of timbre. Also of especial note is one of Elliott's rare self-penned compositions, the autobiographical "Woody's Last Ride", which closes the record. The track is really talked more than sung, but Elliott tells the story to a strange, atmospheric instrumental accompaniment. This song about a final journey provides a fitting metaphor to end the disc.

8

From drunken masters to rumbles in the Bronx, Jackie Chan's career is chock full of goofs and kicks. These ten films capture what makes Chan so magnetic.

Jackie Chan got his first film role way back in 1976, when a rival producer hired him for his obvious action prowess. Now, nearly 40 years later, he is more than a household name. He's a brand, a signature star with an equally recognizable onscreen persona. For many, he was their introduction into the world of Hong Kong cinema. For others, he's the goofy guy speaking broken English to Chris Tucker in the Rush Hour films.

From his grasp of physical comedy to his fearlessness in the face of certain death (until recently, Chan performed all of his own stunts) he's a one of a kind talent whose taken his abilities in directions both reasonable (charity work, political reform) and ridiculous (have your heard about his singing career?).

Now, Chan is back, bringing the latest installment in the long running Police Story franchise to Western shores (subtitled Lockdown, it's been around since 2013), and with it, a reminder of his multifaceted abilities. He's not just an actor. He's also a stunt coordinator and choreographer, a writer, a director, and most importantly, a ceaseless supporter of his country's cinema. With nearly four decades under his (black) belt, it's time to consider Chan's creative cannon. Below you will find our choices for the ten best pictures Jackie Chan's career, everything from the crazy to the classic. While he stuck to formula most of the time, no one made redundancy seem like original spectacle better than he.

Let's start with an oldie but goodie:

10. Operation Condor (Armour of God 2)

Two years after the final pre-Crystal Skull installment of the Indiana Jones films arrived in theaters, Chan was jumping on the adventurer/explorer bandwagon with this wonderful piece of movie mimicry. At the time, it was one of the most expensive Hong Kong movies ever made ($115 million, which translates to about $15 million American). Taking the character of Asian Hawk and turning him into more of a comedic figure would be the way in which Chan expanded his global reach, realizing that humor could help bring people to his otherwise over the top and carefully choreographed fight films -- and it's obviously worked.

9. Wheels on Meals

They are like the Three Stooges of Hong Kong action comedies, a combination so successful that it's amazing they never caught on around the world. Chan, along with director/writer/fight coordinator/actor Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, all met at the Peking Opera, where they studied martial arts and acrobatics. They then began making movies, including this hilarious romp involving a food truck, a mysterious woman, and lots of physical shtick. While some prefer their other collaborations (Project A, Lucky Stars), this is their most unabashedly silly and fun. Hung remains one of the most underrated directors in all of the genre.

8. Mr. Nice Guy
Sammo Hung is behind the lens again, this time dealing with Chan's genial chef and a missing mob tape. Basically, an investigative journalist films something she shouldn't, the footage gets mixed up with some of our heroes, and a collection of clever cat and mouse chases ensue. Perhaps one of the best sequences in all of Chan's career occurs in a mall, when a bunch of bad guys come calling to interrupt a cooking demonstration. Most fans have never seen the original film. When New Line picked it up for distribution, it made several editorial and creative cuts. A Japanese release contains the only unaltered version of the effort.

7. Who Am I?

Amnesia. An easy comedic concept, right? Well, leave it to our lead and collaborator Benny Chan (no relation) to take this idea and go crazy with it. The title refers to Chan's post-trauma illness, as well as the name given to him by natives who come across his confused persona. Soon, everyone is referring to our hero by the oddball moniker while major league action set pieces fly by. While Chan is clearly capable of dealing with the demands of physical comedy and slapstick, this is one of the rare occasions when the laughs come from character, not just chaos.

6. Rumble in the Bronx

For many, this was the movie that broke Chan into the US mainstream. Sure, before then, he was a favorite of film fans with access to a video store stocking his foreign titles, but this is the effort that got the attention of Joe and Jane Six Pack. Naturally, as they did with almost all his films, New Line reconfigured it for a domestic audience, and found itself with a huge hit on its hands. Chan purists prefer the original cut, including the cast voices sans dubbing. It was thanks to Rumble that Chan would go on to have a lengthy run in Tinseltown, including those annoying Rush Hour films.

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