Jimmie Dale Gilmore headlines MoCA festival
by Seth Rogovoy
(NORTH ADAMS, Mass., July 6, 2003) – Jimmie Dale Gilmore brought the curtain down on a lazy, hazy, hot and humid summer night with an appropriately laid-back, hazy set of music at Mass MoCA’s Yankee Remix Festival.
Gilmore brought to bear his west Texas roots and his eccentric voice and personality in a set of original songs and numbers by friends and fellow songwriters from Texas and the South.
Accompanying himself on acoustic guitar and with the able guitar backup of Rob Gjersoe, Gilmore – sometimes called “the Buddhist cowboy,” a reference to his long-standing, deep-seated spiritual pursuits and the near-decade he spent in the 1970s at a Denver ashram – played his organic blend of country, folk, blues, and rock that on radio is called “Americana” and in magazines is called “alt-country.”
It was music that reflected Gilmore’s unique sensibility – “Another Colorado” betrayed his Buddhist leanings and “Tonight I Think I’m Gonna Go Downtown” betrayed his Lubbock roots. He sang in his distinctive, warbly tenor – imagine Willie Nelson’s tone crossed with Roy Orbison’s range – and it added an unearthly quality to some very grounded material, including Lucinda Williams’s “Howlin’ at Midnight” and a Blind Lemon Jefferson song.
The Persuasions were up before Gilmore. For over four decades – precisely for 41 years, as the group reminded the audience constantly throughout its set – the quintet has performed as a “vocal symphony,” taking street-corner doo-wop and a cappella moves and turning them into an art form.
The group applied its mighty, virtuoso chops to a selection of songs by the Grateful Dead and Frank Zappa, who was one of its earliest, if somewhat unlikely, mentors. And if those seem unlikely choices for a cappella material, it didn’t stop the singers from turning the songs – including a gospel-flavored version of the Dead’s “Might as Well,” the Zappa novelties “What’s the Ugliest Part of Your Body” and “My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama,” and the Oak Ridge Boys’ “Elvira” -- into classic, doo-wop-style material.
The set really came alive at the end, however, when the singers sang material that truly allowed them to challenge their arranging skills and flex their interpretive muscles, on a rendition of the Drifters’ “Some Kind of Wonderful” and an over-the-top version of the Stylistics’ “You Make Me Feel Brand New.”
The festival, which took place in the outdoor cinema courtyard, also included earlier performances by the Reggae Cowboys, who as the name indicates combine Jamaican dance rhythms and country-and-western music, Boston-based modern-rock band Amusia, and the Berkshire-based soul-rock outfit Melodrome, fronted by singer-songwriter Robby Baier.
[This review originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on July 8, 2003. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2003. All rights reserved.]
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