Jimmie Dale Gilmore and the First Alt-Country Record

Jimmie Dale Gilmore is a singer/songwriter from Lubbock, Texas. In the early 1970s he started a band called the Flatlanders with Joe Ely and Butch Hancock. They made the first alt-country record ever, but it would take a good 20 years for it to get any attention. All American Music was re-released by Rounder Records in 1991 under the title More a Legend Than a Band. By then, each of the Flatlanders had gone on to solo careers, and Jimmie Dale Gilmore had done his time — at a Denver ashram, where he studied metaphysics. I fancy Gilmore as something of a cow-town Leonard Cohen, and it turns out I’m not far off the mark. Gilmore is a lyricist with heart-plundering instincts, wry self-deprecation, and intelligence enough to torpedo any chance at mainstream pop success. He’s John Updike in a crowd of John Grishams.

Even if you haven’t heard his rock-steady honky tonk or bluegrass, you’ve likely seen him: Gilmore played the part of Smokey, the graying long-hair hippie bowler in The Big Lebowski. He counts Hank Williams, the Beatles, and shape-note singing among his musical influences. Shape-note singing? What is that? It’s a kind of singing musical shorthand in which three elements are combined: an actual note of music, a simple shape, and a syllable.

With the Flatlanders as an on-again, off-again proposition, Gilmore released last year’s folksy Heirloom Music with the Wronglers. The experience is a trip back in time to an era in country-and-western and bluegrass that few of us have experienced. It’s not for everybody, but I appreciate the strength of the music and the character of the performance. You just don’t get that stuff anywhere else.

JIMMIE DALE GILMORE: Acoustic Music San Diego, Thursday, April 19, 7:30 p.m. 619-303-8176. $25.

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