The rise of the singer-songwriter has been one of the most gratifying and disastrous developments in contemporary popular music. Yes, Bob Dylan raised the folk and/or pop singer's own song to high art. But ego has subsequently placed more weight on the latter part of the singer-songwriter equation, when it's usually best the other way around. Because, after all, most songwriters aren't Bob Dylan, and even Bobby Zimmerman has come up with a few clunkers here and there. Jimmie Dale Gilmore gets this notion, and especially well on One Endless Night. It may be a matter of taste as to whether you find his keening, nasal tenor a great voice, but if you do, then this is one of its finer showcases. Yet One Endless Night isn't as much a singer's album of songs as it is a songwriter's album of songs, most of them written by other writers.
Gilmore himself gets writer's credit on only two of the tunes here, as well as the hidden bonus track. But from first listen onward, what's striking is how every number here becomes, in spirit, a Jimmie Dale Gilmore song, including a rather striking cover of "Mack the Knife" that rescues the Brecht-Weill-Blitzstein number from the Vegas cocktail lounges. Here, "Mack" is delivered at a languid yet ominous pace, regaining some of its Weimar-era decadence through, oddly enough, a brand-new folk-rock arrangement. It's also the closest thing here to Braver Newer World, Gilmore's previous, adventurous outing with T Bone Burnett producing.
Still, there's a carved-from-wood charm to the affair. Just about every note and flourish here is focused on serving the singer and the song, making such adjacent songs as Walter Hyatt's "Georgia Rose" and John Hiatt's "Your Love Is My Rest" sound like they came from the same pen. This speaks highly for Gilmore's interpretive art as a singer. The writers represented here are mainly natural choices for Gilmore -- fellow Flatlander Butch Hancock, Townes Van Zandt, Willis Alan Ramsey, and Jesse Winchester -- and even though the Grateful Dead's "Ripple" at first glance seems like a left-field choice, Gilmore also makes it his own with winning aplomb. In the end, this is what modern folk music should be: a great singer delivering a set of songs that all sound (or are) classic, and in the process threading them into a coherent whole. That's more than a modest achievement in any genre these days, although modesty is what nourishes this naturalistic and likable album's appeal. And by having a modest songwriter's ego, Gilmore has done a fine service to Jimmie Dale the singer and artist.
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