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O.C. Pop Music Review : Jimmie Dale Gilmore Converts the Fortunate

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SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

This was weird: Here Texas singer-songwriter Jimmie Dale Gilmore is one of the most respected, critically lauded and decidedly individualistic performers in country music today, and the Taste of Orange County folks perhaps didn’t quite know who he was.

Rather than put Gilmore on the main stage at night, when thousands more would have been in attendance, they stuck him on the small Miller Draft stage in front of 170 or so people sweltering in Sunday’s blazing afternoon heat.

Though it is something of a disservice to categorize Gilmore’s rich and varied music, it could be called Country and Eastern. Gilmore resided for a time at a Hindu ashram, and, though his style reaches back in tradition to Jimmie Rodgers, Gilmore’s own lyrics and choice of cover songs run toward the contemplative and enigmatic.

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Just the sort of stuff you want to preface, as Taste of Orange County did, with an hour’s worth of line-dance lessons.

“The band’s just about ready,” the dance instructor announced at one point. “C’mon, let’s do a tush-pusher ! . . . OK, you grind it, you grind it! . . . You take it right . . . left toe! Heel! Heel!”

Then Gilmore came out with his drum-less, acoustic music and unique high, reedy, quavery voice, opening with a moody bit of metaphysical longing as he sang: “My love she could never see / That this world’s just not real to me / So tonight I think I’m gonna go downtown.”

And, you know? It worked. Though it seemed clear that at least half the audience was new to his music and primed for some generic tush-pushin’ fare, Gilmore managed to captivate them, earning two standing ovations.

The stage was set up at the Irvine Spectrum intersection of Fortune and Pacifica streets, and there seemed a serendipity to Gilmore performing under a sign that said Fortune. With his high-cheeked, angular face and long lank hair the color of a silver Crayola, he looks very much the Southwest mystic.

But at the same time he’s just plain folk: The concerns in his songs aren’t so exotic but, rather, the sort of searching questions and reflections that likely crop up in all lives, except for the vapid boot-scootin’ ones you hear about on country radio.

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As the older covers in his set--from the Rodgers-era “Deep Ellum Blues” to Johnny Cash’s ‘50s “I Still Miss Someone”--attested, depth and doubt are not unknown to the country idiom. And those artful qualities certainly don’t diminish from its ability to serve as entertainment too.

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Gilmore was empathetically accompanied by bassist Lorne Rall and guitarist Chris Gage, who further colored some of the songs with mandolin or lap steel guitar.

The trio rolled out most of the songs like a slow river, but they did achieve a posterior propelling rhythm on some numbers, including the ‘30s-era “Mobile Line,” Elmore James’ “Goodbye Baby” and Gilmore’s own instant classic “Dallas,” a song best known by its Joe Ely rendition in 1970s.

In the early ‘70s, Ely, Gilmore and songwriter Butch Hancock had a now-legendary band called the Flatlanders. Gilmore continues to record Hancock’s songs, and one of the high points of Sunday’s show was “Just a Wave.”

It’s a song ideally suited to Gilmore, with a Zen-meets-quantum-physics sensibility in its put-down:

I said I’ve been your raging river, precious African queen

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I’ve shown you everything that I’ve ever seen

But she knew more than I had taught her

When she said, babe, you’re just a wave, you’re not the water. Gilmore offered another fine river song in his own “Another Colorado.” He also paired two songs about midnight, “Rambling Man” and Lucinda Williams’ “Howling at Midnight,” not to leave out the “midnight train” in his stunning version of Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.”

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Other standouts were his own Spanish-flavored “Chase the Wind” and the encore tune, Townes Van Zandt’s “Buckskin Stallion Blues,” a song he recently recorded with Seattle grunge band Mudhoney.

Gilmore prefaced the song by announcing how delighted he had been to be a Grammy nominee in the contemporary folk category earlier this year. He was glad he didn’t win, he said, because “Grammy nominee” rolls off the tongue so well.

Though he’s generally regarded as a country artist, he was also pleased to have been relegated to the backwater contemporary folk listing. He suggested it’s actually the biggest category of all, saying, “I figured out ‘contemporary folk’ means all of us, doesn’t it?”

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