Texas native Jimmie Dale Gilmore is one of alt-country founding figures, having formed the legendary band, The Flatlanders, with Joe Ely and Butch Hancock in the early 1970s. They tried their luck in Nashville, fizzled out, came home, went their separate ways and became fixtures on the booming texas indie scene of the 1970s and '80s. Gilmore really broke through in the '80s and has since become one of the most renowned and respected figures in the alt-country/Americana scene. Here's a quick look at his work...
Jimmie Dale Gilmore "Don't Look For A Heartache" (HighTone, 2004)
An outstanding selection of tunes taken from his first two solo albums on the HighTone label, 1988's Fair & Square and Jimmie Dale Gilmore, from 1989. I originally put this disc on not knowing that it was a best-of, and was taken aback by the solidity of the playlist.. One great song after another. And then another... and another... Devoted fans will want to have the both of the original albums, but this disc makes for some mighty fine listening, and skillfully skips over any lulls that might have been in the original albums. Highly recommended.
The Flatlanders "More A Legend Than A Band" (Rounder, 1990)
To tell you the honest truth, I have never really cared all that much for this outfit, though there are those who praise them to the stars. Joe Ely, I agree, was a stellar talent, but I'm less smitten with Jimmie Dale Gilmore, and much, much less so with Butch Hancock. Nevertheless, here they all are, way back in their youth, as a pioneering Texas alt-country ensemble whose early-1970s recordings preceeded the entire Austin-outlaw scene by a good several years. Some of the songs on here turned up later on various solo albums. This album ain't bad, but it never made my boat float of my toes curl.
The Flatlanders "Live At The Knite: June 8th, 1972" (New West, 2004)
What an amazing document of this band, live in action during its faint, glimmering, short-lived first incarnation. These recordings were apparently made in front of an audience of less than a dozen people, the sum total of the patrons of a teensy Texas watering hole known as the Knite... You'd never know it was a near-empty room, though, from the intensity with which the threesome tackled each and every song. They were clearly a powerful, powerfully earnest band, covering oldies and adding new tunes to the hard country canon... These soundcheck recordings are remarkable for a variety of reasons... First off, songwriter Butch Hancock doesn't sing at all, while Jimmie Dale Gilmore was the main vocalist, surprising in itself, but made even more remarkable when you hear Joe Ely's vocals cut through on a couple of tunes -- Ely, the growling, grizzled road-warrior-to-be, singing with a high, youthful, almost nervous voice, singing beautifully, with a sincerity that matched the music. Although the studio album that came out of this group's first year was a bit on the reserved side, these live recordings are passionate and compelling: this is what a real 'billy band sounded like, back in the earliest days of the "outlaw" era. And it was mighty fine. Highly recommended!
Jimmie Dale Gilmore "Fair And Square" (HighTone, 1988)
An alt-country classic, with ex-Flatlander Texas legend Jimmie Dale Gilmore singing a lively set of songs written by pals such as Joe Ely, Butch Hancock and Townes Van Zandt, as well as a couple of fine originals and well chosen oldies like Melvin Endsley's "Singin' The Blues." Gilmore has a charmingly imperfect voice, a thin, high-pitched warble that sets a clear dividing line between him and the illusory "perfection" of the too-smooth Nashville scene. Either you're with him, or you're just not gonna get it... But if you're looking for music made by real people, then trust me, they don't get more real and more sincere than Jimmie Dale Gilmore. Some of these songs, like Hancock's "Just A Wave, Not The Water," seem too loosely focused and arty, while others are real gems. The album closes with what I still think is one of his finest performances, a soul-trembling rendition of David Halley's "Rain Just Falls," as finely sculpted and concise a song as anyone could ever hope to find. Great album -- highly recommended!
Jimmie Dale Gilmore "Jimmie Dale Gilmore" (HighTone, 1989)
Excellent. Joe Ely produced the last album, this time around it's the esteemed Lloyd Maines who takes the reins, adding a sonic fullness to the mix that frames Gilmore's vocals more richly than before. The album opens with a perky version of Mel Tillis's classic "Honky Tonk Song," which while it drifts into a brief southern rock guitar lovefest, still evokes fond memories of old Webb Pierce. The rest of the album continues along in the same honkytonkin' vein, a real treat for true country fans who like their heroes to have a few flaws. Again, Gilmore's voice has an improbably air to it, but if you've dug him before, this album will only make you a more deeply confirmed fan. Also includes his timeless version of "Dallas" and his original honkytonk anthem, "On The Hardwood Floor." Great album -- highly recommended!
Jimmie Dale Gilmore & Butch Hancock "Two Roads: Live In Australia" (Caroline, 1990)
Two old Texas alt-y troubadours trade off tunes and croon together on a few others, in a nice, warm, no-nonsense, down-to-earth live acoustic performance. Unpretentious and appealling: it's likely that you'll be as charmed by this album as the original audiences were, back in Sydney and Melbourne.
Jimmie Dale Gilmore "After Awhile" (Elektra, 1991)
This album starts a bit slowly, but gathers steam as it goes along... Gilmore's revisited recordings of the familiar alt.country anthems, "Tonight I Think I'm Gonna Go Downtown" and "Treat Me Like A Saturday Night" suffer, obviously, in comparison to the spooky, definitive versions by his old bandmate, Joe Ely. Even though Gilmore wrote them, the songs falter under his thin voice and delicate, folkish arrangements -- the '70s versions are just too strong in our minds. But when he croons the curiously-themed cautionary tale, "Go To Sleep Alone" (which sounds like an old Hank Snow tune given a modern cajun twist), things click into place, and on the next couple of tunes, as he gives free rein to his band, the disc starts to get kinda honkytonk and fun. "Don't Be A Stranger To Your Heart," a Chris Isaak-ish turn at country soul, falls flat, but the rest of the record is swell. A little wobbly, but still one of his best, most cohesive albums. Recommended!
Jimmie Dale Gilmore "Spinning Around The Sun" (Elektra, 1993)
(Produced by Emory Gordy, Jr.)
This one's a little too lofty and far-reaching for me, too flowery and craft-conscious, both in terms of the writing and the sometimes-busy musical direction. Emory Gordy, Jr. is on board as producer, and while his sweet, syrupy, pedal-steel drenched approach adds welcome depth to a remake of "Just A Wave, Not The Water," on the first half of the album it kinda gets in the way, calling too much attention to itself. Still, if you're part of the Townes Van Zandt contingent, fully in favor of the wordy, poetic approach, then this album may be just right for you: Jimmie Dale Gilmore takes that style to its apex, and that's part of what his fans love him for. I guess it's kind of grown on me, as well.
Jimmie Dale Gilmore/Mudhoney "Buckskin Stallion Blues" (single) (SubPop, 1994)
A CD-single wherein Gilmore covers Mudhoney ("Blinding Sun") and they cover him ("Don't Go Looking For A Heartache") and then they collaborate together on a version of Townes Van Zandt's "Buckskin Stallion Blues." Oh, so cool.
Jimmie Dale Gilmore "Braver New World" (Elektra, 1996)
(Produced by T-Bone Burnett)
Hmmm. Well, he clearly likes to move around and try different things out... This time he's working with producer T-Bone Burnett, who provides Gilmore's lushest arrangements to date, almost with a Van Dykes Parks-ish baroqueness to them... Besides the lyrics getting denser and denser still, the music often threatens to overwhelm or subsume Gilmore's gentle voice. I found this a hard record to get into, but once again, if you're willing to go the distance, Gilmore has a lot of depth and emotional resonance to offer. You just have to go into this is a contemplative, doleful mood... and then it'll hit ya. Not a record that I'd listen to often, but I can see the appeal.
Jimmie Dale Gilmore "One Endless Night" (Rounder, 2000)
An all-star cast pitches in on this mellow, stately studio album. Emmylou Harris, Buddy & Julie Miller, Victoria Williams, Jim Lauderdale and Darrell Scott are among the many who make this album sound so sweet. Once again, Gilmore flirts with poetic stuffiness, as he often does when drifting towards the loftier end of his repertoire, but the gentle, confident arrangements and solid performances suit him perfectly, making this one of his best records. It's also interesting to hear him singing material so many other underrated songwriters, including nice covers of songs by Jesse Winchester, Steve Gillette, Willis Alan Ramsey and even a cover of the Dead's "Ripple." Nice album -- recommended!
The Flatlanders "Now Again" (New West, 2002)
An amazing reunion album! Personally, I think this is much, much better than their old stuff. Obviously, I'm a big fan of the old Joe Ely records, but the original Flatlanders album has always struck me as a bit dull and monotonous. Sure, it's legendary and all that, but the songs that Gilmore wrote really came to life later... when Ely recorded them on his classic MCA albums. As for this new record, it's much more playful and melodically rich, and is packed with plenty of catchy songs, memorable choruses and well-crafted melodic hooks. Even I -- someone who has long been singularly unimpressed by this band -- can groove along to it, and be taken in by the relaxed, masterful confidence these guys bring out in each other. Besides, it's better than anything these three had done solo for the last few years. I'd recommend it to anyone who wants to find out what the fuss was about this alt.country supergroup.
The Flatlanders "Wheels Of Fortune" (New West, 2004)
Some songs old, others new... The second album from the revitalized Flatlanders trio has less of a dynamic, organic feel to it, seeming more a series of songs than an exploration of a newly-renewed creative partnership. Ely, Gilmore and Hancock still bring a wealth of roots music road warrior experience to bear, but the songs seem disconnected from each other, and too tightly crafted in parts, more of a carefully crafted studio creation than a joyful old-timer jam. I really liked the last record, and while this one may grow on me, for the moment I'm a little nonplussed.
Jimmie Dale Gilmore "Come On Back" (Rounder, 2005)
Jimmie Dale doing a set of classic country covers? I am so in!! Although this album has a light, easygoing, simple feel, there is a sad story behind it -- this is a tribute to Gilmore's father, Brian, a regional country player who played guitar in various West Texas venues in the early 'Fifties, and who succumbed to Lou Gehrig's Disease in the late 1990s... His love of good, true country music was, obviously, handed down to his son, and no doubt Jimmie Dale has played many of these oldies onstage and after hours for many years... Some are well-known chestnuts that still bring a smile, others are a bit more obscure... There's the obvious nod to Lefty Frizzell (a fine rendition of "Saginaw, Michigan"), Hank Snow's "Moving On," Charlie Walker's "Pick Me Up On Your Way Down," and several fine tunes originally recorded by Jimmie Rodgers, Marty Robbins, Ernest Tubb, Hank Williams and Johnny Cash. Throughout, Gilmore's delivery is loving and light -- he hits just the right tone on each and every song, with an acoustic-based band that is perfectly in synch, playing the songs like they love 'em, like the tunes are alive and not just museum pieces. This is one of the catchiest, most heartfelt Americana albums I've heard in a while... Highly recommended!
The Flatlanders "Hills And Valleys" (New West, 2009)
(Produced by Lloyd Maines)
Nice stuff from these three old, grizzled pals. This album begins on a strongly political note, with several tunes designed to shake off the hangover of the George Dubya Bush years, about hard times, economic dislocation, Hurricane Katrina, and the much-reviled billion-dollar "wall" along the US-Mexico border. Of these songs, "Borderless Love" is perhaps the best, revealing an emotional openness that still allows for both sincere shock and gooey, love-your-neighbors altruism. This humanist streak runs throughout the album, which is a sly and strident proclamation in favor of people and emotion over pragmatism and hard-heartedness. The Flatlanders pick up the weatherbeaten, dust-blown flag of the semi-redneck hippie faction of what was once called "the counterculture," and make a pretty strong case for their beliefs. As the house of cards that was our economy falls down around our collective heads, these mellow folkie appeals to common sense and compassion sound a whole helluva lot better than anything you'll hear on the cable news channels. Admittedly, there is an air of forced profundity that has to be dealt with -- towards the end of the album, almost every couplet of the lyrics strains to deftly deliver some poetic insight or wry life lesson -- but even so, I'm a huge Jimmie Dale Gilmore fan and any chance I get to hear him sing, I'm happy. Indeed, this is probably one of the strongest, most cohesive Flatlanders albums, and it's definitely a record that came out at exactly the right time to be heard by exactly the right people. Check it out.
Jimmie Dale Gilmore "Heirloom Music" (Redeye, 2011)
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