Leaving the Country

Jimmie Dale Gilmore broadens his horizons -- and if he's lucky, his listeners'

Gilmore uses that wide-open space metaphor the way Roy Orbison used it -- space being something that allows you to stretch out, that necessitates a creative inflation to fill the void -- and this, too, was Gilmore's intentional aim with the new CD.

"We went into it with the intention of experimenting," he says. "I felt like I came more from the tradition of Buddy Holly and Roy Orbison than from some of the other places that I've sort of been lumped with. I'm a country singer in the same sense that they both were, but that's not how they're categorized, and it had to do with the way they approached their recording, with a little more open-endedness. That was the idea going into this. Not to make a record like them, but to make a record of my own that was ... you know, let's go play around with it and mess with it and see what happens."

The result is an almost incomprehensibly eclectic collection that holds itself together by the sheer, inimitable force that is Gilmore's voice, starting with a title track that floats like a cloud on a bed of horns and Jon Brion's edgy, ethereal guitar work, with Gilmore informing the listener that "It's a braver, newer world you've found." The "you" Gilmore addresses is never identified -- "part of the mystery of the song," he says -- but it might as well be anyone who stumbles onto this disc in the "Country" section of a CD store.

What follows roams the map. "Where Is Love Now" is a tune that Sam Phillips penned for Gilmore, and with the almost trip-hop beat provided by session skin-whiz Jim Keltner, it's the CD's happiest incongruity. Blind Lemon Jefferson's "Black Snake Moan" is treated to a minimalist reading that Gilmore says was played as a studio break and recorded while he wasn't looking, and it has the loose rocking feel to back the story.

There's also the expected complement of songs by Gilmore buddies Joe Ely ("Because of the Wind") and Al Strehli Jr. ("Come Fly Away," "Sally"), but the disc's experimentation happened not so much in the song selection, says Gilmore, as in the song preparation. "A lot of [what's on the CD] was actually early takes of songs," he says. "The experimentation would be in setting it up, using weird amplifiers and weird combinations of microphones, and some of those real strange old keyboard things, the old Opticon and the Chamberlain -- these sort of pre-synthesizer things that kind of did what synthesizers do. Tape loops and stuff like that. Once we found an interesting sound, then the song would get played that way."

The sessions produced some distinctly un-country sonics filled with horns and manipulated guitars and pre-synthesizer synthesizer sounds. They also produced a new Gilmore original, "Outside the Lines," the only one of the CD's tracks that was written in the studio during recording. It's a song that closes the album with the kind of pure rock and roll rave usually reserved for leadoff tracks. It's also the song that Gilmore says best reflects his fresh discoveries in the studio, and is "probably an indication of a direction I'm going to take a lot more in the future." Finally, it's "Outside the Lines" that serves as a primer for the album as a whole and, Gilmore hopes, as catalyst for the reworking of a legend. As he sings it, "I'd painted myself into a corner / but footprints are just about to become part of my design / now that I've found myself over the line."

Jimmie Dale Gilmore plays at 8 and 11 p.m. Friday, August 30, at Rockefeller's, 3620 Washington Avenue. Tickets are $29, $24 and $14. For info, call 869-8427.

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