Jimmie Dale Gilmore & The Wronglers @ Beachland: Heirloom Music, Two Encores + Joy in the Songs
Jimmie Dale Gilmore + the Wronglers
21 June 2011
They call it Heirloom Music, going so far as to make it the title of their first collaborative recording; but for Jimie Dale Gilmore and chockablock San Francisco roots/string/grass band the Wronglers, it is more a call to remember what the sheer joy of playing can create. Onstage at Cleveland’s Beachland Ballroom, there was nothing new, but rather a celebration of how good music can feel, how sweet time-worn songs can be and the way fingers on strings can give people an elevation so lofty, the eight musicians on the stage of the old Croatian hall were called back for not one, but two encores.
Opening with “Brown’s Ferry Blues,” it was obvious this would be a night of making memories vital and buzz in the right now. A song so old – with the admonition “I don’t smoke and I don’t chew/ and I don’t run with the girls that do” — you realize it’s a song that’s always been there, and been there for its sheer euphoria without ever remembering when you first heard it played.
And so it went throughout the evening: timeless standards, ranging from Bill Monroe’s lightning quick “Uncle Pen” to the Carter Family’s achingly yearning “I’m Thinking Tonight of My Blue Eyes” and Flatt & Scruggs’ ramblin’ lament/hope “If I Should Wander Back.” It is in the canon that the Wronglers find their grounding, but in their playing that they seek the sky.
Whether it’s the reeling fiddle of Heidi Claire, which moves from darting shimmer to a stream of sorrow, the chiming chunka-chunka downstrokes and filigreed runs of Bill Martin’s mandolin or the burning leadss and etched guitar lines of longtime JDG sideman Rob Gjersoe on guitar, these songs are given shape by the love they are played with. For folk-tinged country, there is no finer ingredient to tease the sentiments to their greatest capacity.
And there is no love greater for this music and the interaction with fellow players than Warren Hellman, who can be heard plink-plink-plinking on the banjo. A world class investment banker, a glib raconteur and a vocalist who knows the original hobo’s version of “The Big Rock Candy Mountain” is the only way to go, the 70 year old music lover gets into the fray and rolls through the roiling “Way Downtown” and the wink’n’wry blues of Tommy Duncan’s “Time Changes Everything” with gusto.
Solos are shared – as Clare and Martin pass back and forth with the same dexterity as Gjersoe and stately acoustic guitarist Nate Levine – and a solid bottom is conjured by bassist Colleen Browne, adorable in her embroidered off-green cowgirl boots.
Indeed, sartorial splendor is part of it. Clare looks like every cowboy’s sweetheart, sawing away on the fiddle, Gilmore complements a burgundy t shirt with a slightly metallic thread in his lean black suit coat– and Hellman’s dark denim blazer is covered with 6[point stars outlined in giant lines of diamante, sanctifying the music in even more ways. But that unlikely rag-tag nature of dress reflects the string-band, old country, dusty folk, rural blues and beyond mash-up that is the essence of heirloom music.
To hear “Deep Ellum Blues” played as the quick-picking vortex of what it means to be alive on a Saturday night, one senses the thrills, the dangers, the apex moments – and suddenly a rainy Tuesday night is transformed. It is the playing, but also the way camaraderie is contagious… and it rolls right off the bandstand and into your being.
Still, the depth and lasting impact comes down to soul Often haunted soul, but always music from some deeper place. Early in the show, Gilmore brought his quivering tenor to the traditional “In The Pines,” a riveting song in most people’s hands; but in Gilmore’s it is a chilling reminder of loss, pain and mortality. As his voice rises, one can get chill bumps – and know someone has been inside their darkest places and understands.
Coming back for their first encore, Gilmore acknowledged the number of times he’s played the Beachland and suggested he and Gjersoe might honor that with a Butch Hancock song from his own repertoire. The spare “I’m Just A Wave” was a tangle of Gilmore’s ethereal voice, all philosophy and mystery, and some of Gjersoe’s most seering guitar lines, not quite a duet, yet a definite engagement between voice and instrument.
And it is in the bumps, the lumps and the mistarts that the charm rises. It is not about perfection, machining the perfect sound or the light show. For the Wronglers and Jimie Dale Gilmore, it’s about being a witness to what music at its core offers: at the Beachland Ballroom, hope, warmth, community and yes, a way to sort through your feelings and maybe laugh a little, lighten up and actually hear the music while you’re doing it.