Cover Story: How the Miller Told His Tale

Jimmie Dale Gilmore ends a four-year hiatus with what could be one of the year's best albums

May 25, 2000 at 2:06 pm
Jimmie Dale Gilmore

"I sure am in love with this album." It's a pronouncement that one hears from family and friends all the time, and it generally hits the air with barely a second thought. But when respected singer/songwriter Jimmie Dale Gilmore utters this oft-spoken sentiment regarding his own newest effort, One Endless Night (Windcharger/Rounder), it gives one pause.

Of course, when Gilmore professes these deep, abiding feelings for his new album, it's not generated by some superego promotional mechanism shifted into hyperdrive. His love for his new work is much like Gilmore himself: pure and honest, without guile or a cynically crafted agenda. After just a few moments, it becomes crystal clear that the reason Gilmore loves One Endless Night so much is because he genuinely feels that way about the process of making the album and the people involved.

"I just feel so lucky," Gilmore says on a scarce off-day from his current touring activities, which includes dates with the newly reassembled Flatlanders (his mid-'70s group with Joe Ely and Butch Hancock). "Everything about this came together right. (Producer) Buddy Miller is a jewel. I love Buddy personally, but his talent is just mind-boggling — as a producer, as a musician, as an engineer, and as a great guy to be around.

We really fell into a groove in there."

It should come as no surprise that Miller's name crops up on Gilmore's album, given their equally impressive resumes. Miller was busy producing One Endless Night in his home studio last fall, just about the time that his own stunning album, Cruel Moon, was garnering the accolades that would place it firmly on a number of Top 10 lists for 1999. Gilmore's album will likely follow suit in 2000.

"It was a convergence of several accidents," Gilmore says of the decision to utilize Miller as producer. "I'd been a fan of his, and we had actually met back in the early '80s. Buddy used to live in Austin. I was really a fan of his when he was playing with Steve Earle, and there were several festivals that we played simultaneously. I would always go over to the stages that they were playing because, well, they were so great. Last year, I did a series of shows opening for Emmylou Harris on the West Coast, where Buddy and Julie (Miller, Buddy's wife) would open, and then I would play, and then Buddy would come back out with Emmylou. So we ended up with a lot of time together, backstage and everything, and we just got to be friends. When the evolution of this record came around, Mike (Gilmore's partner in Windcharger) said, 'What would you think about working with Buddy Miller?' I said, 'If he were available, I would absolutely love it.' Mike called Buddy that night, and he said the same thing."

Miller turned out to be the very tonic that Gilmore required to pull off the amazing synthesis found on One Endless Night. His previous album, 1996's phenomenal Braver Newer World, found Gilmore in an expansive sonic mood, as he broadened his palette considerably from folkish Country to include a winsome roots-laden Folk/Pop. The critical acclaim that greeted Braver Newer World proved to Gilmore that he was on the right track, and he determined that whenever he had the chance to record its follow-up, he would continue to pursue this new sonic ethic.

The biggest problem with getting Miller and Gilmore in the studio together was the logistical scheduling. With Gilmore still touring steadily alone and with The Flatlanders, and Miller touring with Emmylou and Linda Ronstadt, as well as working on his and Julie's albums, not to mention production work for Bob Delevantes and sessions with old friend Jim Lauderdale, the opportunities became slimmer all the time. Gilmore did some fast shuffling to accommodate Miller's wild calendar.

"We put off our whole schedule for that to be possible," says Gilmore. "A delay like that didn't seem to matter by that point since it had been four years anyway. It had been such an evolution into the idea of doing our own record, that by that point we decided to do it our way at our own pace."

Gilmore had plenty of activity to occupy him in the four years since his Braver Newer World. He had a bit part in the Coen Brothers' The Big Lebowski last year, but don't look for him to jump ship for Hollywood. ("I had a great time, but I'm not an actor — I don't come from that world ..."). He started Windcharger Records to self-release One Endless Night and to possibly release other artists if the opportunities arise, but he clarifies the reasons surrounding its creation ("I was not dropped by Elektra, I left them ... I have nothing but good things to say about them, but this was the right time to do this."). And he knew that all of his plans would pay off if he was patient.

The wait paid off, as One Endless Night continues magnificently along the experimental path established on Braver Newer World four years ago. Mixing up the material between a few of his own compositions and some of his favorite tracks from his favorite songwriters (including the late Walter Hyatt and Townes Van Zandt, whose work Gilmore humbly claims he could make entire albums from), Gilmore has managed to raise the bar once again on his own creative contributions.

Two of Night's most potent covers are two of its most unexpected entries. Gilmore's take on Jerry Garcia's "Ripple" is a shimmering homage to the Grateful Dead classic, but the arrangement found on the Brecht-Weill chestnut "Mack the Knife" is nothing short of astonishing.

"I was a fan of that song, and I was a fan of Bobby Darin's," Gilmore says of the well-traveled lounge version. "But then I found a version of the song on an album by Dave Van Ronk back in the late '60s. That was when I woke up to the fact that the song is a genuine piece of art. It's more than just a throwaway Lounge Pop song. I started doing it after that, and I just did it for so long that it sort of evolved into my own style, but I credit Van Ronk for opening my eyes to it."

One of the more interesting aspects of One Endless Night is the thematic thread that links it to Gilmore's work on the Flatlanders album in 1975. The album was all but ignored at the time, but in retrospect is now considered one of the most influential sonic markers of rootsy Country Rock. Gilmore doesn't shy away from the discussion of the album's greatness then and now or its connection to his current musical status.

"My wife and I came home late at night after one of the gigs, and we played the Flatlanders record," Gilmore relates. "We just meant to listen to one of the cuts, and we ended up listening to the whole thing. Then we listened to my new record right behind it, and Janet made the comment that those records are really related in some odd way. And it's really true. That Flatlanders record was ahead of the curve, and it stands up today. And it's made me trust my own judgment."

JIMMIE DALE GILMORE plays the Southgate House on June 22.