Jimmie Dale Gilmore,
One Endless Night
(Windcharger/Rounder, 2000)

The first time I heard Jimmie Dale Gilmore, I knew I was listening to a very special person. It's not just the voice. It's not just the performance. There is something extra, an uncommon presence. He is a storyteller extraordinare, with rare insight into the minds and workings of others. Songs he has written himself, songs composed by others, traditional pieces: Gilmore is always able to select something that suits his distinctive vocals. Arrangements, at times sparse and bare, at times engulfing, allow the stories to enfold, each thing in its proper place. A Jimmie Dale Gilmore album is an event. One Endless Night is a perfect example.

Take "Mack the Knife," the classic song from the Threepenny Opera. A slow walking-paced acoustic guitar, a simple bass line, a chorded organ, a fuzzed electric guitar lead and percussive punctuation -- almost as far away from the original stage arrangement as it is possible to get. Yet, the characters from the underworld are so perfectly captured. Perhaps he has transferred the locale to somewhere like a depression-era San Francisco, but he has not lost the essence of the Weill/Brecht/Blitzstein original. What a climax to the album.

The rockabilly self-penned (and unmentioned) "DFW" shows the breadth of his talent. He can tiptoe through a sultry landscape, yet as this track shows, he can rock with the best of them. One wonders if Lubbock, Texas, has woken up yet to the dynamic musical tradition that has evolved from within its limits since rock arrived on the scene.

Fellow Flatlander Butch Hancock once again is the source of a couple of tracks on this album -- outstanding tracks with the flowing "Banks of the Guadalupe" and a revisited "Ramblin' Man," two contrasting songs, again demonstrating Gilmore's skill at interpreting diverse material.

He seems to find some of the best singers to help out on his recordings and this album is no exception. Victoria Williams joins in on "Banks of the Guadalupe," following in the footsteps of earlier collaborations with the likes of Tish Hinajosa and Lucinda Williams. Elsewhere, Emmylou Harris and Julie Miller, as well as Jim Lauderdale, the Calloway Sisters, Cry Cry Cry and Buddy Miller provide harmonious foils for Gilmore.

Instrumentally, not a sound is out of place. He has rounded up a talented group of musicians who are able to enhance an already strong performance. Many demands are made on them to match the virtuosity and diversity of his eclectic approach and they succeed with great integrity. Rob Giersoe's electric guitar work stands out, yet never dominates. The rhythm section of Byron House (bass), Don Heffington (drums), Steve Hindalong (percussion) and Gilmore himself (guitar) is solid, inventive and intriguing. A number of other musicians add guitar, dobro, fiddle and more throughout. They create continuity in spite of the varying styles and sources of material.

Townes Van Zandt, a classic songwriter, would be proud of his fellow Texan's interpretation of "No Lonesome Tune." The songs of another recently departed musician, Walter Hyatt, also live on through the voice of Gilmore. "Georgia Rose," which is perfectly paired with the preceding waltz "Goodby Old Missoula" by Willis Alan Ramsey, is spine-tingling in its poignancy. And Jerry Garcia's collaboration with Robert Hunter, "Ripple," is also performed with great feeling.

Whether singing a light, easygoing song like Jesse Winchester's "Defying Gravity" or his own emotional Roy Orbison-esque "Blue Shadow" co-written with Hal Ketchum, Gilmore gets inside the story, interpreting it with great appeal. Other songs include John Hiatt's "Your Love is My Rest" and Steve Gillett and Tom Campbell's "Darcy Farrow" (one of the best versions I've heard of that one, too).

Thirteen tracks, over 50 minutes, a well-thought out, well-produced (by Gilmore and Buddy Miller) recording. Country music is more than beer, pickups and jail, something Gilmore has always demonstrated. (Though that does not mean he doesn't sing about beer!) And on this, his sixth solo release, he takes it a stage further.

(Because of the environmentally friendly album packaging, you have to seek out the lyrics and liner notes on the Internet, but it's worth taking the time exploring his site.)

[ by Jamie O'Brien ]

Buy One Endless Night from Amazon.com.