Elliott Charles Adnopoz, a Brooklyn doctor's son with a ramshackle voice, was an unlikely candidate to become one of America's greatest folk troubadours. But he pulled it off, joining the rodeo at 15, changing his name to Ramblin' Jack Elliott, hoboing around the country with Woody Guthrie, and later drinking and picking with nearly every folkie who ever sang a Guthrie song. On his new album, "The Long Ride," Elliott sings duets with some of those friends from half a century of folk music -- Dave Van Ronk, Dave Alvin, Tom Russell and Maria Muldaur.
Elliott sings songs by his mentor Guthrie and by such proteges as Mick Jagger (who credited Elliott with inspiring him to buy his first guitar), Bob Dylan (who tagged after Elliott in early-'60s Greenwich Village) and Tom Waits (who adopted Elliott's distinctive vocal rasp). Producer Roy Rogers (the bluesman, not the cowboy) gives the album a relaxed looseness that allows some bum notes but also the sparkling spontaneity of Elliott's personality to come through.
Elliott made his first album, "Ramblin' Jack Elliott," for Prestige in 1960. He followed it with a 1962 studio album, "Country Style," which showcased his Guthriesque renditions of country-music hits by Hank Williams, Jimmie Rodgers, Roy Acuff and Ernest Tubb. He was making the point that the hillbilly hit parade was just a later development of Appalachian ballads and cowboy story-songs. Later in 1962, he recorded "Jack Elliott at the Second Fret," a live album that emphasized his ability to combine storytelling and singing until one blended into the other. Now both of those 1962 albums have been reissued as a single CD, "Country Style/Live."
Over the past two years, Buddy Miller has toured as the lead guitarist for Steve Earle, Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt. Earle and Harris repay the favor by singing harmony on Miller's third solo album, "Cruel Moon," the best hard-country disc we're likely to get in 1999. Miller has mastered the nearly lost art of stripping a country song down to its bare essentials -- a common-sense catch phrase, a repeating guitar lick and a jukebox melody. His twangy voice then shines the fierce light of heartbreak through this transparent but sturdy structure as if it were a lantern. He co-writes the songs with his wife, Julie Miller, and his best friend, Jim Lauderdale, and Nashville's stars should be lining up at their door for the chance to sing these gems.
Both appearing Wednesday at the Birchmere with Dave Alvin. To hear a free Sound Bite from "The Long Ride," call Post-Haste at 202/334-9000 and press 8106. For a Sound Bite from "Country Style/Live," press 8107. For a Sound Bite from Buddy Miller, press 8108. (Prince William residents, call 690-4110.)