Jimmie Dale Gilmore is an evocative singer-songwriter with a warbling, tender tenor voice that comes straight from the heart of the lonely plains of his native Texas. Dave Alvin is a roots-rocking singer-songwriter whose high-flying, bluesy guitar leads and booming bass voice show evidence of a native Californian who started out as an ambitious rock ’n’ roller and then stuck around for a lifelong career as an Americana musician’s musician.
On Nov. 4, the two effectively combined their skills as an acoustic-guitar duo. They performed two sets of Western-flavored, bluesy folk-rock and rolling country music at the Outpost in the Burbs concert series at the First Congregational Church in Montclair.
The pair generally alternated the lead vocals during two 45-minute sets in which Alvin’s expert, wide-ranging guitar leads and Gilmore’s warm, resonant voice consistently stood out.
It was the 12th and final date of a tour and their collaboration will also result in a new album, Gilmore told the audience.
“We’ve known each other for 30 some years but we’ve never actually played together before,” Alvin said.
Each had a background playing as part of a group. During the 1980s, Alvin flirted with pop stardom as the lead guitarist and main songwriter for the Blasters, a popular post-punk Los Angeles-based rockabilly outfit fronted by his brother, Phil. Alvin then served as the lead guitarist for a late version of the rootsy L.A. punk band X, before embarking on his lengthy solo career.
In his more than 40-year career, Gilmore has mostly been a solo artist but has worked on several projects with Joe Ely and Butch Hancock as a member of the Texas roots-rock and honky-tonk super-trio The Flatlanders, an outfit that came to mind as Gilmore shared a leading role at the Outpost with Alvin.
The pair put their strengths in sharp focus at the beginning. They opened with Alvin’s “King of California,” a hard-strummed, dramatic tale brimming with the history of his state, where he is a fourth-generation native: “But my darling dear, please have no fear/For I think that it’s fair to warn you/That I return to claim your hand/As the king of California.”
From there, the duo moved to Gilmore’s rambling, dreamy “Tonight I Think I’m Gonna Go Downtown,” with Alvin’s lyrical, pretty guitar break complementing Gilmore’s poignant, sad singing.
In the first of many self-deprecating jokes, Alvin commented, “Everybody’s got a list of songs they wish they’d written. That’s on my list. I also wish I’d written ‘Louie Louie.’ ”
But the pair did play their greatest hits, or greatest near-hits. One of Alvin’s best-known songs, the fast-paced, catchy “Fourth of July,” written originally for X and later recorded by Alvin as a solo artist, was an expected high point with Alvin’s soaring guitar and boisterous singing.
And the pair also highlighted songs they wrote that were made famous by others. Introducing Alvin’s rollicking, bluesy “Long White Cadillac,” popularized in the country world by Dwight Yoakam, Alvin said, “I know other people sing this one. They all sing it better than I do.”
Later, during the encores, Alvin played his fast-moving danceable tune “Marie Marie,” originally sung by his brother Phil with the Blasters. Alvin pointed out proudly that it was also recorded by the late Buckwheat Zydeco and has become something of a standard among zydeco bands.
As for Gilmore, he joked that he would play “a medley of my greatest hit” before launching into “Dallas,” a jaunty, upbeat, catchy tune performed by others, including Ely and 10,000 Maniacs.
Other high points included Alvin’s heavy-hitting, autobiographical “Dry River”; his jarring tale of a 1950s rock’n’roller who died a tragic, early death, “Johnny Ace is Dead”; and Gilmore’s outstanding ballads, “Another Colorado” and “Just a Wave, Not the Water.”
Although the music could be described as classic Americana, the pair were mindful of current events.
Gilmore said that while growing up, his greatest influence, after Hank Williams, was the recently deceased Fats Domino. The duo then performed the Domino hit “Walking to New Orleans” as an amiable, comfortable stroll.
Gilmore became emotional performing Woody Guthrie’s sad “Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos).” Alvin added a touching Mexican-flavored guitar riff on this Depression Era song concerning migrant workers who are sent home to their native Mexico and die in a plane crash. It’s a timely song with the immigration issue raging: “You won’t have a name when you ride the big airplane/All they will call you will be ‘deportees.’ ”
The pair ended the night with the Summer of Love anthem, “Get Together.” Despite the fact that the song is now being used in a Walmart commercial, Alvin’s majestic guitar lead and Gilmore’s determined singing amounted to a plea for unity in a divided world.
“King of California”
“Tonight I Think I’m Gonna Go Downtown”
“Long White Cadillac”
“Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)”
“Honky Tonk Song”
“Just a Wave, Not the Water”
“Johnny Ace Is Dead”
“Fourth of July”
“Walking to New Orleans”
Here are some videos from the show: