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Taking to the tracks with Jimmie Dale Gilmore

They're all good. Jimmie Dale Gilmore's voice guarantees that. He is the owner of a magnificent set of vocal cords placed in a perfectly resonating chamber-mouth. Few singers are more instantly identifiable: Words slide smoothly, notes stretch and quaver around the harmonics, and the sound is timeless. The man could be the distillation of all country & western singers of the 20th century.

Gilmore's career started some 30 years ago, when he, Joe Ely and Butch Hancock were in the Flatlanders, a brilliant country band whose single album was released only on eight-track tape (it's now in print on Rounder Records under the title More a Legend than a Band). Whereas Ely and Hancock put out solo records later in the '70s, Gilmore didn't release anything until the late '80s, when he signed to the Hightone label. By '91, he had jumped to Elektra, where he recorded the brilliant After Awhile and the fine Spinning Around the Sun.

Gilmore writes his own songs sometimes, but he has great taste in material from other sources. His albums are practically samplers of some of the best country-based songs of the last 15 years. All his recordings are at least good, but most fans agree that his last album, 1996's Braver Newer World, was the weakest. Too many songs suffered from attempts to smother the unique quality of Gilmore's voice and to highlight an experimental approach to rhythm and instrumental background.

Jimmy Dale Gilmore could be the distillation of all country & western singers of the 20th century.
James H. Evans
Jimmy Dale Gilmore could be the distillation of all country & western singers of the 20th century.

As a result, fans may have tempered their expectations for Gilmore's new release, One Endless Night, on his Windcharger Music label in conjunction with Rounder Records. But freed from a major label, Gilmore may have come up with the single finest album of his career.

"If there's an underlying theme to this record," Gilmore explains, "it's that these are all songs I've loved for years and always wanted to record." One Endless Night takes the listener on a journey back and forth in time, capturing love in moments of loss and discovery. The sequence is extremely effective, sliding effortlessly among moods, rhythms and styles. Gilmore and co-producer Buddy Miller create indelible arrangements, bringing in guest musicians and backing vocalists as needed.

Gilmore comments on each song from the record:

"One Endless Night": "That was written with my friend David Hammond. I think maybe it's my favorite thing on there right now. The ironic thing about that song is, we wrote it about a week before we went to Nashville to start recording. Buddy and I had already agreed on a long list of songs, and David and I just made a decision to try to write a song together that would be good enough to go on it. What I like about it is that it kind of touches on the dreamlike quality that a relationship has, and yet it's simultaneously almost explicit."

"Down by the Banks of the Guadalupe": "That's one of Butch Hancock's songs that I've really loved for a long time. I performed that song with Butch for a really long time, and I always just loved it. It has that wonderful dreamlike quality.

"I love what Buddy Miller plays on it, that blend of the folky kind of finger-picking guitar with that electric textural thing. Buddy likes the traditional sweet melodic stuff, but he also really likes, as do I, the intensity of rock & roll and the harsh sounds and the discords and the other end of that spectrum of emotion, the chaotic. When I realized that, it occurred to me that I was describing my own taste."

"No Lonesome Tune": "Townes Van Zandt, who wrote it, taught me that song a very, very long time ago. I make the joke at gigs that I do that one because it was the closest thing that he ever did to a happy song. The song just suits my taste, and there is the personal connection with Townes. And I love the treatment of it, the way it came out with almost a little rock feel to it and a little touch of Cajun in it."

"Goodbye Old Missoula": "I've been doing that song for close to 30 years now. That one record Willis Alan Ramsey made -- he was young, and everything on that record was a minor masterpiece."

"Georgia Rose": "Walter Hyatt was a very good friend of mine. Walter was killed in the ValuJet crash a couple years ago. He had lived in Austin for a long, long time. He was one of the real unsung heroes of the whole thing down there. He was a truly great creative force, an extremely inventive songwriter. I deeply love this song. It just touched me somehow."

"Your Love Is My Rest": "This was actually the exception to the rest of the covers on this album, because I hadn't known it for years and years. I think that's on Walk On, which is one John Hiatt album I didn't happen to have. The first time they played that song for me, I just loved it. I was knocked out by it. I love most of what John Hiatt does, but most of what he does I would never even consider singing. It doesn't fit me."

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