A look back at songs his late father loved makes Jimmie Dale Gilmore's latest a simple but special retrospective.
The first time I saw Jimmie Dale Gilmore was just a few years ago when he played the legendary Horseshoe Tavern here in Toronto. It was just himself, there were no other Flatlanders around to beef up the songs, but with his catalogue, he really didn't need any help. It was also the first time that I heard someone who defined the word "twang", making Willie Nelson sound as if he had no such thing. Around that time though, Gilmore suffered the loss of his father and musical inspiration, Brian Gilmore, who died from ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease) in 2000. Following 2000's One Endless Night, Jimmie Dale decided to pay tribute to his late father by dusting off some of the songs his dad enjoyed. "They are simple, well-crafted, unpretentious little gems from a wonderfully creative period in American commercial music," Gilmore writes in the liner notes. And over the course of these baker's dozen selections, the son seems to have done daddy proud.
Gilmore's sound fits these older nuggets like a well-worn shoe, kicking off with the bouncy honky-tonk of the country 101 standard "Pick Me Up on Your Way Down". The singer does little, but with such a tune, one only needs to avoid screwing it up. Gilmore seems to quicken the tune's pace with Eamon McLoughlin playing some fine fiddle throughout, especially on the bridge. From there, Gilmore tries his hand at "Saginaw, Michigan", made famous by Lefty Frizzell. In fact, it was Frizzell's last hit before his passing. A pace that is one step removed from a dirge, but not quite a mid-tempo song, the tune is highlighted by Gilmore's warm warble as he sings some of the lyrics while simultaneously speaking them. Think of perhaps Marty Robbins, Chris Isaak or Dwight Yoakam doing similar justice to this track as Gilmore does. A fine toe-tapper, but nothing that you'd write home about it.
Other songs on the album don't quite live up to snuff, particularly the light, almost hokey nature found on the sway-in-your-seat vibe of "Standin' on the Corner (Blue Yodel No. 9)". Gilmore can be envisioned singing the song on horseback, but it just seems a tad too forced, despite the best of intentions. The only thing he doesn't do is yodel, which might be a blessing. Faring a bit better is the Tex-Mex hue that fuels the rampant sonic frolic "Don't Let the Stars Get in Your Eyes" (written by Slim Willett) that has Gilmore blazing through the lyrics during the two-minute song. Think of "Streets of Bakersfield" by Dwight Yoakam and Buck Owens on high-speed dubbing, and you would get the gist of this jewel. However, another slight stretch is "Four Walls" which is best performed by Jim Reeves.
Gilmore goes way back for some of his father's favorite songs, and when he does hit the mark, the result is magic. "I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive", made famous by Hank Williams, is a barren ditty best suited for the Ryman Auditorium. Featuring Robbie Gjersoe on lap steel and electric guitar, the number takes its good time to wrap up. The well-worn Hank Snow track "I'm Movin' On", which has been covered dozens if not hundreds of times, including by the Rolling Stones, is up next. And Gilmore takes the song down a notch thanks to the work of his supporting cast, including fellow Flatlander, and longtime friend Joe Ely. Perhaps the highlight though is the tender, wistful "Don't Worry About Me", which sounds as if someone is playing a can or spoons for percussion.
After the catchy, troubadour-esque "Jimmie Brown the Newsboy", Gilmore wraps things up with the poignant "Peace in the Valley". While I wouldn't want him to record too many of these albums, this one seems to strike the right balance between paying tribute to his father while paying tribute to the song also.