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Jimmie Dale's "One Endless Night"

By Meredith Ochs

MARCH 13, 2000:  The name Jimmie Dale Gilmore evokes languid Western rhythms, and a voice that's as lonesome as the plains around his native Lubbock, Texas. In the early '70s, Gilmore founded the Flatlanders, a legendary roots band, with his close friends and fellow Texans Butch Hancock and Joe Ely. He spent the rest of the decade at an ashram in Denver. When he returned to music in the '80s, Gilmore was labeled a "zen cowboy."

But he quickly dispenses with that somewhat romanticized image of him. "I've been a high-tech hobbyist forever," he says enthusiastically during a telephone conversation from his home in Austin. "I was a member of CompuServe in 1984."

Indeed, though Gilmore's sixth solo album, One Endless Night (Rounder), has the vibe of a bordertown roadhouse jam and the warmth of analog sound, the entire album was recorded direct to Macintosh computer. That computer happens to be sitting in the cozy Nashville home of Buddy Miller (who produced the record with Gilmore), which accounts for the miracle of sound that transformed a cold digital format into something entirely human. Miller, a fine singer/songwriter/guitarist and a sometime sideman of Emmylou Harris and Steve Earle, is at the heart of the magic of One Endless Night. "Buddy is a godsend," says Gilmore. "Usually, musicians of his caliber focus only on their instrument. But he's a fabulous engineer. The trick with technology is having people around who know how to use it."

Miller brought a few of his friends in on the sessions, including Harris, wife Julie Miller, singer/songwriter Jim Lauderdale, fiddler Tammy Rogers, bassist Byron House, and drummer Don Heffington, and that had an impact on the sound as well. It's practically a who's who of who's cool on the fringes of Nashville, plus a few imports, including songstress Victoria Williams and the New York folk trio Cry, Cry, Cry, which is Richard Shindell, Dar Williams, and Lucy Kaplansky.

"I always approach making records like a science experiment," Gilmore explains. "You get good musicians, teach them the songs you've got, then play and see what happens. We got most of the tracks on first or second take, so that live feeling was captured. It was such a great vibe hanging out at Buddy and Julie's house. We had the stringed-instrument players in the living room -- mandolin, slide guitar, dobro, and fiddle, with Buddy on the other side of old-timy glass doors. It was fairly chaotic, there were wires going everywhere, but it was so comfortable and homy that it reminded me of how I learned to play with my friends."

The setting proved perfect for what ultimately became the disc's theme. Gilmore chose a number of songs by great, underappreciated writers who have influenced him over the years, including Townes Van Zandt, Willis Alan Ramsey, Walter Hyatt, Butch Hancock (with whom Gilmore is currently on the road, along with Ely, doing a Flatlanders tour), and John Hiatt. "I didn't go into this thinking I wouldn't do any of my own songs, but I've always looked at myself more as an interpreter and a collector of songs than a writer, even though I've written some pretty good songs. I've known most of these songs for a long time and fell in love with them the first time I heard them. There's a common thread to all of them in terms of depth of feeling in the lyrics and melodies, and they're all hybrids that you can't easily classify as country, folk, or rock songs."

It's a musical blueprint of Gilmore's life and career. He was born in Amarillo, Texas, in 1945; the soundtrack of his childhood was country music, and he worshipped Elvis and rockabilly as a teenager, but he was inspired to play by the folk revival of the 1960s. "When I started loving new music, I didn't dump the old stuff. Respect for tradition with love of innovation is pretty much the recipe for me."

On his last release, Braver Newer World (Elektra, 1996), he pushed his love of innovation, replacing his usual twangy backdrop with a more experimental one. But One Endless Night is a return to the more traditional sound and vision of his 1993 Spinning Around the Sun (Elektra). Dobro carries the melody of the Jerry Garcia/Robert Hunter composition "Ripple." "Blue Shadows," written by Gilmore and Hal Ketchum, features Tex-Mex guitar and a cowboy chorus. And Hiatt's "Your Love Is My Rest" is a gorgeous anthem for weary travelers.

Then there's the album's closing track, a Southwestern-paced rootsy version of Kurt Weill & Bertolt Brecht's "Mack the Knife." "I was a fan of Bobby Darin's version, but in that period where I was learning how to play I heard Dave Van Ronk's version, which showed me that it's a work of art rather than a lounge song. It's kind of a standard throughout the world. It has an incredible story, and a melody that's simple but extremely hypnotic." It's also the perfect end to a guided tour of Gilmore's influences -- a song that's crossed continents and centuries and is now being passed down to another generation and genre.

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