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Reviews of CDs by Ramblin' Jack Elliott, The Poor Clares and The Color Red

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Ramblin' Jack Elliott, "The Ballad of Ramblin' Jack," (Vanguard) — This recent release is the soundtrack for a documentary movie that Elliott's daughter made about this storied American character. Tracing Elliott's musical history through his lengthy and far-flung career, the CD features live performances and obscure recordings made between 1953 and 1998. For the most part, it's just Jack picking his acoustic guitar, sounding loose and wiry, spinning such vagabond tales as mentor Woody Guthrie's "Hard Travelin'" or Jesse Fuller's "San Francisco Bay Blues." But we also hear him team with Johnny Cash for a friendly, slightly out-of-tune and off-the-cuff version of "Take Me Home," recorded during Cash's 1969 television show. There's also a duet with Guthrie on "Railroad Bill" that gives us an aural glimpse into the master-student relationship the two shared. Other great moments include a heartbreaking 1998 live version of one of the best bittersweet songs ever written, "Don't Think Twice," and the set closing "Cuckoo." And if the musical promise of the duet cut with Bob Dylan goes unfulfilled, the ditty the twosome recorded at a New York church in 1961 is at least historically interesting. Ramblin' Jack continues picking and singing to this day, and this CD reveals why he's such a priceless part of American folk history. The first time I heard this fine project I was so blown away I couldn't think of a single disc in my ever-growing collection that could follow in its wake. — Ames Arnold

The Poor Clares, "Change of Habit," (Centaur) — The Poor Clares is an Irish band with a welcome twist. Based in New Orleans and on Ireland's west coast, this well-traveled unit is unafraid to stretch out the musical lessons it has learned during its world tours. Band members clearly honor the traditions of the of tin-whistle jig and Gaelic ways, but the Clares go a step further, adapting its own world-beat visions and jazz-tinged arrangements to the sound.

Led by the haunting voice of Betsy McGovern, the group moves smoothly from exhilarating danceable instrumentals, to beautiful ballads where flutes carry lonesome melodies, to weirdly humorous tales of cross-dressing and labor-gang mishaps. In addition to the beautiful vocals, band members keep the repertoire interesting by varying instruments throughout, mixing the acoustic sounds of the bouzouki, guitar, mandolin, bodhran, chimes and more in the ever-changing arrangements.

— A.A.

The Color Red, "Below The Under," (SpinRecords.Com) — Internet-only music label has just taken the bold step of releasing its first bona-fide compact disc to the masses. It comes in the form of the debut album from Riverside, Calif.'s, The Color Red. For a first foray into the world of CD manufacturing, has made a well-calculated decision for its initial signing. On "Below The Under," The Color Red does polished post-punk in a style that's not at all dissimilar to other band's of the genre such as The Foo Fighters, or the lesser-known Sense Field. The group's pop-tinged sound is a radio-friendly one that could potentially sell a million records, if enough people were exposed to it.

The album's first single, "Smile," is typical of the songs on "Below The Under." The ditties appearing are tightly played numbers, filled with crunchy guitar riffs and backed by a throbbing rhythm section. The band's frontman, Jon Zamora, actually exhibits a range to his vocals and can just plain sing his pants off. My pick for the album's winning cut is a tossup between the two equally chaotic tracks, "The Greatest Hits" and "Cycle." Then again, the mellow Smashing Pumpkinslike vibe of "So Cool" is palatable as well. This song's title, which is also the record's next-to-last cut, best encapsulates the whole feel of The Color Red's debut.

— Angelo DeFranzo

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