Americana Icons 'Get Together'
Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Dave Alvin record their first album as a duo

By Lee Valentine Smith

Downey To Lubbock plays like a relaxed conversation, a gentle meld of two of Americana's most respected singer-songwriters. The music veterans have crossed paths for longer than they've actually known each other, but for the past three decades they've been intending to work together.

But great art takes time and Jimmie Dale Gilmore's Texas-bred country-blues and Dave Alvin's California rockin' roadhouse heritages make for the perfect combination of styles on the collection. It's the Flatlanders meet the Blasters tempered with age-appropriate arrangements.

With two originals and a diverse set of covers, the project highlights their shared influences as it travels across the thousand-mile span from their hometowns.

INsite spoke with Gilmore at his home in Austin just before he packed his guitars for the duo's latest tour.

You've known Dave for the better part of three decades. Is there much tour prep at this point?

Well it's funny, we've been on tour for about a year and a half now. The first year was just the two of us and now this year, since we made the record, it's with the band. So it might take us all of 15 minutes to get back up to speed. It really does come naturally to us. One of Dave's many talents is that he's an extremely good bandleader and organizer.

So you'll be ready for that first show of this leg of the tour.

Oh yeah, but before we even start the tour, my band The Flatlanders are playing a benefit for Beto O'Rourke, which has actually caused some consternation among my fans. I got a bunch of really hateful, stupid stuff from people because of it [on social media]. I replied, 'Well at least let's have some civil discourse about all this.' I got some good responses from that. I think my fans, whether they're conservative or not, I still think they really want everyone to come together. Everything is so skewed now because of the internet and everything, it's hard to tell what's going to happen anymore. But I do think the whole volatile nature of today is bringing up new avenues of things I want to express.

It's great that you've brought [Chet Powers' 1966 composition] "Get Together" back out for the album. That's an anthem that always seems timely.

I've done that song for years, but we've discovered that it hits such a nerve now. Every night, that song is one of the high points of the show. Early on, Dave went, 'That's going into the show, no matter what.' Then we started positioning it as part of the main finale.

When you were out on the road last year, were you two gelling the track-list of the new album?

Yeah, travelling together as a duo, we could play anything we wanted to, and the other could either join in or not. But just about anything I'd play, any of the old stuff, Dave already knew. Our styles were a little bit different, but it really worked and it grew organically.

The combined musical library in your heads could probably fill weeks of shows, with no repeats.

For this record, we had such a wealth of material. But Dave had a pretty clear vision early on of what we should do. He'd come up with surprises, like songs by John Stewart or Chris Gaffney. I think Dave was pacing the record out early on. He worked from an overview rather than one song at a time. That's something else we have in common, neither of us won't do a song unless we love it. We have to be into it or we won't even do it at all. I think he had a big picture in mind.

So the Downey to Lubbock theme (and title track) was a conscious concept.


Oh yeah, he had most if it written by the time we did the first sessions last December out in L.A. You might get a kick out of this. We had the band there and the arrangements were going great. But for the lyrics [for the new compositions] he had his lyrics written out, with blank spaces for mine. Dave said, 'Just go ahead and scat sing or whatever.' I thought, 'Well ok, I'll do this but then I'll go home the next couple of nights and really write my lyrics out like he did.' But we went though them and had the whole presentation. The band was sounding so good. So I just sang on top of 'em, just off-the-cuff. After we were done with the sessions that day, I said, 'Ok, I'll go work on my lyrics now and get them done soon.' He said, 'No, man! We're done.' And that's pretty much the way we work, it really is like a conversation.

Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Dave Alvin play Tuesday, November 13 at City Winery. Jontavious Willis opens. Showtime is 8 p.m. For more information, please citywinery.com/atlanta.

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