A lanky, longhaired singer-songwriter from
West Texas, Jimmie Dale Gilmore possesses the sort of voice that,
once heard, you want to retain forever as part of your life.
It's a high and lonesome, utterly unaffected sound that transforms
whatever he sings-Zen-tinted country rock, Hank Williams standards-into
something cool and pure. With both Cherokee and Irish roots,
Last year was bittersweet for Gilmore. He released a long-awaited album in late winter, a project he worked on as his father struggled with ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig's disease), which finally caught up with him last summer. The pleasure and pain of these two events added up to something exactly like a Jimmie Dale Gilmore song.
One Endless Night, an album of exquisitely eclectic Americana that marked his first release in four years, was the first to follow his departure from the major label that issued his three prior records: Spinning Around the Sun; Braver Newer World; and his 1991 masterpiece, After Awhile. The hiatus between projects was filled with what Gilmore characterizes as "a continuous reassessment of a continuous reassessment of a continuous reassessment" that concluded with the creation of his own label, Windcharger Music, which is distributed by Rounder Records.
Despite the gaps and changes, a certain
artistic and geographic continuity runs through Jimmie Dale Gilmore's
life. Named after "Singing Brakeman" Jimmie Rodgers,
Gilmore was born in Tulia, Texas, in 1945 and raised in Lubbock,
a town noted for the unusual number of UFO sightings reported
there as well as for the utter two-dimensionality of the surrounding
terrain. Buddy Holly's father backer the demo that Gilmore recorded
in his early 20s with fellow homeboy, country-rocker Joe Ely.
The seriously underrated songwriter
These days, the reborn Flatlanders are writing songs for a possible album. Do they just break out the whiskey and guitars and hope for the best? "Oh no. We get together out a Joe's with our instruments and a computer. We use the word processor and simulations so we can experiment with everything," he says.
Gilmore is a marvelous interpreter of great songwriters, and One Endless Night includes tunes by writers as diverse as Hancock, John Hiatt, Robert Hunter/Jerry Garcia and Bertolt Brecht/Kurt Weill. Gilmore has joked-though it's really not a joke-that he's run across so many great rock, folk and country songwriters in his life that he's devoted more energy to their work than to his own. He's a famously cerebral writer, some of whose best songs- "Dallas," "Tonight I Think I'm Gonna Go Downtown," "Go to Sleep Alone"-concern the eternal struggle between "the bein' and the seemin'" sung about in the latter tune.
A yin-yang hybrid of suffering and compassion runs through the Buddhist student's work - "I've seen crimson roses growing through a chain-link fence / I've seen crystal visions, sometimes they don't make sense," he sings in "Where You Going." A stint with the guru Maharaj Ji during the 1970s saddled him with what he characterizes as a "somewhat misleading" reputation as an eastern mystic. But when asked if last year's changes made him feel more adrift than usual-Gilmore, a serene a performer as you'll find onstage, does adrift really well-he replies, "that's where I'm most at home, really. It's kinda been that way all along. It's all experimental to me."