Ramblin' Jack Elliott / Greg Quill Hugh's Room, Toronto ON - March 24, 2005

Ramblin' Jack Elliott / Greg Quill Hugh's Room, Toronto ON - March 24, 2005
Local scribe/Aussie cult survivor Greg Quill established a rather austere singer-songwriter mode, pre-empting each selection with short narratives that gradually warmed the audience. Yet his vocals and guitar tunings were shy of his usual high standards; his stirring material is largely reliant upon precision to succeed. Ramblin' Jack's first experience with the intimacy of Hugh's Room was uncomfortable - the 73-year-old had no idea where his guitar jack was, but his awkward moment became a comic opportunity. Ramblin' Jack Elliot performed 12 songs over his two-and-a-half-hour set, and if you assumed these were extremely long songs, you don't know Jack. As his moniker suggests, Jack is a master storyteller and world traveller. Everyone in attendance anticipated the colourful sidebars as much as the songs, and nobody left disappointed. Elliott, a true character, survived the Beat Generation to become the self-made cowboy of his dreams. Along the way he befriended and inspired a "who's who" of the entertainment world, beginning with his reverence for Woody Guthrie to acquaintances with everyone from Kerouac to Dylan, Pete Seeger and Jerry Garcia. Elliott's brand of Americana folk (a graduate of the Guthrie school) remains intact and each classic was prefaced with a distinct ramble. Once plugged in, his set began with a rousing version of Jesse Fuller's "San Francisco Blues," his voice slightly cracking under the strains of a cold. This led to stories of riding trains, leading to Woody's "The Ranger's Command," which proved he still has lots of power in his weathered croak. From hilarious impersonations of Dylan to flashbacks to his Riverboat days, Elliott's audience hung on every word, while musical highlights included the fast-paced "Freight Train," Tim Hardin's "If I Were A Carpenter" and his haunting take on "South Coast." Best of all was the realisation that Elliott remains the epitome of the very character he likes to sing about. There's something timeless about who he is, what he does and how he does it.