Rising Stars
Six lesser-known Bay Area acts in the spotlight with Grammy nominations

by Sylvia Rubin (25 February 2020, San Francisco Chronicle)

More than 30 Bay Area artists were nominated for Grammys this year, including the San Francisco Symphony, Chris Isaak, Robert Cray, Santana, Gregg Allman and John Adams. Those are the names you may recognize.

Then there are the others, the less familiar artists on smaller labels. For them, the Grammy recognition represents, in many cases, acknowledgement beyond what they've ever known.

They may sell as many as 100,000 albums a year, but you won't hear them on mainstream radio or see them on MTV.

Here are some Bay Area nominees you may not know well: teen singers Los Cenzontles; pianist Suzanne Ciani; bluegrass artists Laurie Lewis and Tom Rozum; music video producers Clint Goldman and Mark Dippe; Indian sarod player Ali Akbar Khan; and singer Ramblin' Jack Elliott. ----


Reluctant Ramblin' Jack Went Back Into the Studio
Best Traditional Folk Album `South Coast'

It has been 27 years since Ramblin' Jack Elliott recorded a studio album. He hates studios. Bob Feldman, the head of Rounder Records, put it to him this way: "Jack, you might die before you do another one."

"He convinced me," says Elliott, who will be 65 this year. Bob Dylan and almost every other folkie who came of age in the '50s imitated Elliott, who trekked across America with Woody Guthrie. Elliott has been just about everywhere and done just about everything except plug in his guitar.

He took his 24-year-old Martin acoustic into the studio. There was no playlist. "I just did all my favorites because I can do them easily and quickly. I recorded 25 songs in 12 hours. It was like spinning through the pages of a comic book," Elliott says. The what-the hell, but heartfelt, quality of "South Coast" has earned Elliott his first Grammy nomination in a 40-year career. His voice is raspy on some songs, raspier on others. The guitar picking is graceful throughout. He sings "Cocaine Blues" and "If I Were a Carpenter." He does "San Francisco Bay Blues" and four Guthrie tunes, including "Pastures of Plenty" and "Talkin' Dust Bowl."

But at this point, even Elliott is thinking it may be time to update the repertoire. "I've got to learn some new songs," he says with a hoarse laugh.

Elliott makes his home in the North Bay. He performs infrequently, though he will be at Sweetwater in Mill Valley on Tuesday night. In addition to his Grammy nomination, he will be honored with the Bill Graham Lifetime Achievement Award at the Bammies in March.

All this attention is getting to him: "It's getting scary. It's like I've ended my life already." On the other hand, it lit a fire under his boots. "For the first time in 30 years, I've actually written a couple of new songs," he says. "Folk songs. I'm no threat to Frank Sinatra."

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