Jimmie Dale Gilmore

By Bob Bahr

Were they posin', frozen, or just stunned?

When nearly one hundred people congregated at Cliffhangers Sept. 26 for Jimmie Dale Gilmore's concert, the outside venue alternately looked like a mannequin warehouse, a breezy hoedown barn and a tough showcase where a discriminating public replaced shrewd industry types. Into this chilly atmosphere stepped the mild-mannered singer/songwriter with a Johnny Cash authenticity and a backing band capable of resuscitating a dead man.

In particular, the guitarist stage right mixed the tastefulness and skill of a session man with the deep-down twang of a honky tonk veteran. Looking like a truck stop Todd Rundgren, he balanced Gilmore's desert-weary figure with folksy roots, reflecting the people of the rural Southwest as Gilmore's long, streaked hair and lonely voice seemed a personification of the harsh, flat land.

Hit songs existed only in the minds of Gilmore's cult following, but these key songs raised a yell from close-seated fans. In Texas, the rocks and dirty sand exist in the '90s, but they have seen thousands of years come and go, witnessed hearts broken and mended, loneliness found and lost with the chance collisions of imagined loves.

As the Lubbock native himself pointed out, two consecutive songs from his set displayed the contrast of country's true tradition and Gilmore's relevant modernizations. After a yodeling, plenty-twangy Jimmie Rodgers cover, Gilmore led the band through one of his songs that had been reworked and performed by Natalie Merchant and David Byrne on MTV. Both tunes hit home.

Gilmore's uncompromising strain of country connected and retained the Cliffhangers audience, but opener Sheryl Crow provided the fireworks.

After an interminable and tardy sound check, the fans cooled their heels in the chilly weather for another lengthy period before Crow and the band took the stage. Crow, luckily, had the goods to erase the crowd's nasty predisposition. Her set of music was a heartening chart for the future of country music, with Beatlesque musical elements and wonderfully, skillfully loose playing providing a vibrant bed for Crow's voice to bounce on. With a throat like hers, the tunes would have leaped and rollicked without the band.

Half of Crow's band were multi-instrumentalists, allowing for a variety of sounds and approaches. The electric guitar in particular was treated to three different styles, and the group was most mesmerizing on songs where guitar textures and figures sprang independently from both sides of the stage.