With a touch of performance synchronicity the film “Ramblin’ Jack Elliott: A Texas Ramble” unwinds on Thursday while the spirited 88-year-old troubadour performs live Friday night in Houston.
The documentary presents a patchwork quilt of Elliott’s work shot over the years and assembled by Dee Brown and Bruce Bryant, the two of which have been filming the story-telling folksinger for the last few decades. Brown and Bryant also made the Texas inspired singer-songwriter documentary “For the Sake of the Song.”
Elliott is a bridge between the folk heritage of Woody Guthrie and the modern warbling of Bob Dylan. Elliott was trailblazing the Village neighborhood of New York City as a guitar strumming poet in the early 1950s.
“A Texas Ramble” combines concert footage shot at Anderson Fair; a bit known as the “1980s Ramble,” which consists of Elliott cruising down country highways in his camper top truck with his Labrador telling tall tales; footage lensed at Kerrville; some snippets shot at the 19th century ship Elissa in Galveston along with pieces showing Elliott enjoying laid back banter at his ranch in Round Rock.
The different textures are weaved together with contemporary interviews from Lyle Lovett and Arlo Guthrie.
Guthrie in particular gives credence to Elliott’s influence on a generation of folksingers. Elliott traveled and toured with Woody Guthrie but when Arlo was coming of age Woody was being hospitalized with symptoms related to Huntington’s disease and unable to properly communicate. Woody died in 1967 after over a decade of institutionalization. The main record of Woody’s vibrant years post-WWII came from Elliott.
Likewise, Lovett recalls the time that Elliott crashed a concert duet when Lovett was on tour with Bonnie Raitt. In retrospect Elliott seems like one of the few performers that could get away with such a stunt without catching flack.
“A Texas Ramble” won’t set the world on fire or offer the kind of disconcerting portrait of such recent music films as the David Crosby documentary. It feels more like a celebration of a life well lived.
“Ramblin’ Jack Elliott: A Texas Ramble” plays exclusively at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston this Thursday, September 5, at 7 pm. On Friday, September 6 Elliott performs at McGonigel’s Mucky Duck at 7 pm.
Another documentary that’s been stitched together from various home videos and concert footage pays homage to Houston raised musician Travis Scott.
“Travis Scott: Look Ma I Can Fly” premiered on Netflix last week, where it’s currently streaming. Much of the doc was shot in Houston with an eye towards video footage of Scott as a youngster intercut with behind-the-scene footage from his Astroworld tour.
The end product resembled nothing so much as watching home videos of Scott’s life, which for fans will offer the vicarious thrill of seeing the rapper and record producer dealing with the onslaught of his sudden fame.
Perhaps, not ironically, Scott, age 28, and Elliott are influential with diverse messages for their fans albeit from different generations. Elliot has been nominated for a Grammy five times, winning twice, while Scott has been Grammy nominated six times.