Toward the end of their double concert at City Winery on October 26, father and son singer-songwriters Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Colin Gilmore stood side by side strumming their guitars, perhaps unaware that that they had assumed identical stances, their bodies pulsating as if one. Even so, it’s easy enough to tell them apart.
Tall and lanky, with a long white mane and high cheekbones that reveal his part-Cherokee ancestry, 67-year-old Jimmie Dale Gilmore looks like the icon that he is, the country musician who writes cosmic lyrics that spring from his roots and his rambles. Raised in Lubbock, Texas on a musical diet of Hank Williams and Johnny Cash and later Buddy Holly and Roy Orbison, the elder Gilmore spent a good chunk of the ‘70s in an ashram in Denver studying metaphysics; he now teaches songwriting at Esalen. His pure tenor serves up his plaintiff lyrics, cutting through the extraneous to deliver his message.
Son Colin sports a clean-cut, preppy look appropriate to his home in the university town of Austin, Texas. His version of country leans toward rock. Placing himself among other musicians who lean the same way, Colin Gilmore said, “When you listen to us, we’re not really country.” No matter — the musicianship is solid.
At City Winery, Colin opened for his father, accompanied by a trio of talented Midwesterners: Jason Bennett of Evanston on guitar; Jason’s twin brother Tim Bennett on drums; and Billy Compton of Ohio on bass guitar. For a soon-to-be-released album, the four co-wrote one of the songs they performed at City Winery, the catchy and rhythmic “Steppin’ into my Future.” Chicago musician Julia Klee joined in on vocals for another number.
Jimmie Dale Gilmore opened his set with the haunting “Tonight I Think I’m Gonna Go Downtown.” Every bit as poignant was his “Just a Wave, Not the Water.” Whether playing his own tunes or Butch Hancock’s “My Mind’s Got a Mind of Its Own,” Gilmore commands attention without seeming to try for it. With a voice that is more resonant than twangy, Gilmore is hard to resist listening to — as long as he’s singing.
But much of the time Gilmore was on stage he wasn’t singing but talking, often about politics. OK, so as a liberal Texan, he’s a blue stater living in a red state, but at City Winery Gilmore was preaching to the choir. Some of his shtick can be amusing — “I’m going to tell this story again because I want to hear it myself” — but it’s a shame to take too much time away from his music. At City Winery Gilmore told of a time earlier in his career when a Chicago critic began a review with “Jimmie Dale Gilmore, a man who never met a digression he didn’t like...” Clearly tickled by the description, Gilmore might want to learn from it.
After a few songs on his own, Jimmie Dale Gilmore was joined by his son, and as they shared the stage, their similarities — that body language — as well as their musical differences became clearer. One thing the son might want to learn from his father is to enunciate. When Jimmie Dale Gilmore sings, every word comes across. And with words this affecting, you don’t want to miss a single one.
Jimmie Dale Gilmore & Colin Gilmore
City Winery, 1200 W. Randolph St., Chicago
Oct. 26, 2012
For information about upcoming performers at City Winery, go to citywinery.com/chicago