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Jimmie Dale & Butch - Forever Young

What’s mine is yours! What’s yours is probably mine? Is this the conversation of young siblings fighting over toys? No, it’s just two of the finest musicians of Americana music in concert. For when Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock get together - as they did at Auckland’s Tuning Fork on March 1 - there is every chance one might get confused about who wrote what on a somewhat flexible playlist. “This is my best song, well it’s actually another one of Butch’s,” Gilmore drawls before launching into a majestic version of “Just a Wave, Not the Water” – I even thought that I out-thought her/Till she said babe you’re just a wave you’re not the water.

Gilmore’s high-lonesome tenor voice is one of the most distinctive in any musical genre and is ageless. And Hancock’s song-book, regarded as one of the finest in modern music, is indeed priceless.

So, there is always great expectation when these two 74-year-old’s get together. The pair were in New Zealand for a one-off public gig – there had been a private bash the previous night. They were joined by Gilmore’s singer-songwriter son Colin and his band - Chicago brothers Jason (lead guitar) and Tim (drums) Bennett, and bass guitarist Bonnie Whitmore, herself a singer-songwriter and fledgling star.

But Gilmore, his long grey hair flowing out of a cowboy hat, and Hancock, looking resplendent in a black bowler-fedora, are always centre-stage!

While Butch has the star songbook, Jimmie Dale isn’t short of a good composition and the second number up is “Dallas” which Rolling Stone includes in its Greatest Country songs list. The vocals are traded between Colin and Butch. And Hancock is happy to do the same when he soon delivers “If You Were a Bluebird,” his beautiful love lament given star-treatment by Emmylou Harris on her 1988 release Bluebird.

With Colin, Butch and Jimmie Dale all among the best of the fingerpicking acoustic guitarists, the purists might argue there was little need for the big electric accompaniment. Indeed, there were moments when Jason Bennett’s lead seemed somewhat intrusive!

But there was nothing intrusive about Jimmie Dale’s voice. He was at his stand-out best on “Tonight I Think I’m Going to Go Downtown” (his song) and “My Mind’s Got a Mind of its Own” (Butch’s song). And while Butch doesn’t have the vocal range of his life-long friend, he took command of the rollicking “Thank God for the Road” and “You Coulda Walked Around the World,” title track of his acclaimed 1997 album.

The Flatlanders – the trio Gilmore and Hancock formed with Joe Ely in Lubbock all those years ago - was never far from the musical equation, though it got complicated when Gilmore introduced one number as a Flatlanders' song, only to clarify it was actually written by his son. Colin then launched into his “The Way We Are” from The Flatlanders’ penultimate album Hills and Valleys.

Colin had earlier displayed his “chip off the old block” pedigree with a polished support act with his band during which he interspersed his old material (“Feel Like Falling”) with something from his father (“Blue Shadows”) and even Buddy Holly (“Heartbeat”) who was also a lad from Lubbock! Bonnie Whitmore had her moment in the spotlight with the provocative title track from her “Fuck with Sad Girls” album and “She’s a Hurricane” from the same release.

But the night clearly belonged to two grande ole men of Americana music. After 50 years in the business, this could have been just another gig somewhere around the globe for Gilmore and Hancock. But it wasn’t, because deep down – in-between Jimmie Dale’s self-confessed “divergences” – they just want to play the music they love and call their own – or each other’s!

Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock will always be – forever young!

Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock live with Colin Gilmore at The Tuning Fork, Auckland, March 1.

Review by Paul Cutler Editor – Crossroads Americana Music Appreciation


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