With his new album, One Endless Night, Jimmie Dale Gilmore assumes the role that he always seemed destined to fill: becoming the musical and spiritual heir of Willie Nelson as the great cosmic American musical voice of his generation.
There's the mystical aura - his eyes convey a peacefulness and a knowing wisdom that's revealed in his musical choices, which lean hard on reflection, self-evaluation, pain, perseverance and a rowdy sort of redemption.
There's the astringent voice: high-toned, a bit pinched, yet musically expressive in ways that overcome its limitations and, in the end, make them part of his charm.
There's the music: While his love of melody, sweet-toned guitar notes and earthy, barroom rhythms identify him as a traditionalist, he's open to all genres of music, and he constantly strives to find a new angle or a new texture.
Lastly, yet perhaps most importantly, there's the material. The best of his written work ("Dallas," "Treat Me Like a Saturday Night," "These Blues") deserves its place in the classic American songbook, yet he's also a supreme interpreter.
One Endless Night holds high all that makes him special. Gilmore has hinted at greatness before, especially on his early '90's Elektra albums After Awhile and Spinning Around the Sun, which found him moving beyond his country and Texas folk influences to create a sort of Saturday night spiritual music all his own. One Endless Night (on his own Windcharger label) applies those strengths to songs and sounds that comprise a larger web of influences and ambitions.
"I genuinely come from a country background," Gilmore says in the same sincere tone that anchors all of his recordings. And I genuinely come from a rock'n'roll background and from a folk background - in particular the part of folk music that encompasses the blues. Those are all there equally."
"My whole thing is that I love so much from so many worlds that tend not to intersect with each other. I think this album genuinely blends those worlds into a seamless thing. That's the only way I can describe it. It's the only answer I have."
He credits producer/guitarist Buddy Miller for his empathetic understanding of what Gilmore wanted to achieve. "Our temperament and our taste coincided perfectly," Gilmore says. "He too is a genuine rock'n'roller, and he has a genuine love and a deep knowledge of country music. We shared the same sensibilities so deeply; it was truly like I found my artistic brother. Then, on top of that, he's real into computer stuff and into all this new technology. It was the perfect match for me."
For One Endless Night, Gilmore laid down his own pen to interpret the songs of others - another move that mirrors the career of Nelson. He covers Townes Van Zandt's "No Lonesome Tune," Jesse Winchester's "Defying Gravity," Walter Hyatt's "Georgia Rose," John Hiatt's "Your Love is My Rest" and a couple of tunes from his old Flatlanders bandmate Butch Hancock. But as Nelson often does, Gilmore makes a couple of surprising selections: the Grateful Dead's "Ripple" and, even more eye-opening, the Brecht/Weill standard "Mack the Knife," which Gilmore frees of all of its finger-snapping, lounge-standard glory to create something altogether different.
What binds these disparate choices is Gilmore's artful take on earthy traditions and his Byronic belief in the spirituality of telling an honest story. In an age when hipsters rely on irony and distance and the hucksters dwell on mawkish melodrama, Gilmore's guileless sincerity sounds triumphant.
"It's in my blood to go for the romantic and the sentimental," he notes. "In one of the worlds I live in, it's real unhip to have sweet, sentimental emotions. To me, that's just as stupid as the guy on the other end who rejects all innovation and advancement."