The Wronglers with Jimmie Dale Gilmore
The Wronglers and Jimmie Dale Gilmore's "Heirloom Music," released in May 2011, proves that anyone can unite over good music.
From outside appearances, the differences between Texas musician Jimmie Dale Gilmore and California investor Warren Hellman are vast. While Gilmore was hanging out in ashrams and playing honkytonks, Hellman was improving his portfolio and attending board meetings. The middle road between the men is a love for music, particularly "heirloom" or older, traditional music.
In his free time, Hellman sings and plays banjo for roots string band The Wronglers. He is also the financier of Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, a San Francisco festival, at which Jimmie Dale Gilmore is a returning performer. Hellman and Gilmore got on a personal level after meeting at a private party related to the festival.
Gilmore, whose original works have won him critical acclaim and Grammy nominations, has spent recent years reflecting on the songbook that inspired his music. His last album, 2005's "Come On Back," was a collection of classic country songs. For Gilmore's newest project, he wanted to go even further back, focusing on songs that preceded and influenced the birth of country music.
Although The Wronglers were a relatively new band, having only formed in 2006, Gilmore saw them as the perfect fit for "Heirloom Music." The Wronglers are a six-piece with instruments and a playing style consistent with the time period of Gilmore's focus, post-Depression and pre-World War II.
On "Heirloom Music," Gilmore puts his heartfelt singing style, deemed "sagebrush soul," to a mix of ballads, bluegrass classics and blues-inspired songs. The album features familiar numbers like "Uncle Pen," "In the Pines" and "Foggy Mountain Top."
Some may label these songs, nearing the century-old mark, as "old-timey," a term Jimmie Dale Gilmore is not fond of.
"There's something dismissive about the term 'old-timey'", Gilmore said. "Our point is that the music may be really old, but it's also really good and really still pertinent."
Despite most of the songs having been written before he was born, Gilmore says he's been playing them for more than 30 or 40 years. When singing Bob Wills' "Time Changes Everything," Gilmore's familiarity and passion is unmistakable.
The same affection is apparent in The Wronglers' playing. Though members of the group have been playing only for a short time, they show no evidence of incompetence. "Heirloom Music" was meant to be accessible to musicians of any level, so it is appropriate that The Wronglers are not seasoned veterans.
Jimmy Dale Gilmore's emotive voice rings in the Carter Family ballad, "I'm Thinking Tonight of My Blue Eyes." The female section of The Wronglers provides the beautiful harmonies heard in the chorus. This female accompaniment appears throughout the album, accentuating Gilmore's tenor.
"Big Rock Candy Mountain" has been recycled time and again, but Jimmie Dale Gilmore and The Wronglers have a truly unique take. Hellman remains vocally silent until this album-ender, for which he chimes in for a few verses. No irony is lost on a billionaire singing a song about a hobo's dream of paradise. Despite this, Hellman is wonderfully earnest and unassuming in his delivery.
Like antique aficionados, Gilmore and Hellman refuse to let "Heirloom Music" sit in the back room and collect dust. Instead, they polish it off and give it new life. They are insistent on reintroducing songs that not only influenced them personally, but also served as the bedrock of today's popular music.
An heirloom is valuable object that is passed on from generation to generation. Jimmie Dale Gilmore and The Wronglers have taken up the charge to pass on American musical heritage younger generations. "Heirloom Music" successfully entertains the interest needed to keep the music sustained in the years to come.