Honey-throated alt-country singer Jimmie Dale Gilmore knows how strange it sounded in theory for him to team with gruff rockabilly growler and ex-Blaster guitarist Dave Alvin for “Downey to Lubbock,” their new YepRoc collection of duets on mostly vintage-blues covers. But in practice, it made sense.
“It turned out that Dave and I had a whole lot of repertoire in common,” says the Austin native, who hits San Francisco with Alvin this week. “He’s a few years younger than me, but we both had been into the exact same music back when we were learning how to play.”
It’s remarkable how seamlessly the artists trade verses on chestnuts like “Walk On,” Lawdy Miss Clawdy” and “Buddy Brown’s Blues,” and how their coarse and fine vocal combination breathed new protest-song relevance into the quiescent hippie classic “Get Together.”
The same goes for the co-penned title track, in which Alvin and Gilmore relate tales of their similar upbringings in California and Texas, respectively, as if they were folklore. The record really chugs, sounding more lovably laconic with every listen.
“We’ve been touring together for a year and a half now, and Dave is really fun to work with and a great bandleader,” says Gilmore, amazed at how fast the project took off.
The collaboration wasn’t planned by either party. The musicians first met on the road in the late 1990s, became fast friends, but never considered working together.
They seemed to come from different worlds. The Grammy-nominated Gilmore, 73, had released crystalline solo albums, reformed his old 1970s outfit The Flatlanders for a spell, acted in occasional films like “The Big Lebowski” and taught songwriting.
The edgier Alvin, 62, maintained a busy release schedule, and frequently rejoined old punk-scene pals X and The Knitters. He also buried the hatchet after his estranged brother, Blasters frontman Phil Alvin, nearly died on tour in Europe.
Out of the blue, Gilmore’s booking agent suggested a series of concerts with Alvin last year. “As soon as he mentioned it, I said, ‘Yes, I’d like to do that,’ and I think Dave was the same way,” he says. “We could tell within the first few gigs that this was going to work, and on the second gig, Dave decided that we’d better record some of this.”
YepRoc greenlit “Downey” in a heartbeat, and it was cut in Alvin’s Los Angeles studio.
“A lot of people probably never associated me with that blues world,” says Gilmore, who was friends with genre legends like Son House and Lightnin’ Hopkins. “But after country music, it was my main influence — as soon as I got into playing the guitar, I discovered the blues right away.”
IF YOU GO
Dave Alvin, Jimmie Dale Gilmore
Where: Great American Music Hall, 859 O’Farrell St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. July 27
Contact: (415) 885-0750, www.eventbrite.com
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