Frank Olinsky
Frank Olinsky

THE WEST TEXAS TOWN OF LUBBOCK sits in a griddle-flat territory of space and time, where paved roads at the edge of the city dissolve into wind-scorched field and dust. It’s a conservative territory of farmers and cowboys, Baptists and oil people, and it has given birth to a remarkable lineage of music writers and singers who have put Lubbock on the world’s cultural map. Buddy Holly and Waylon Jennings came from Lubbock. So did a less famous but mightily influential group called the Flatlanders, whose first—and for decades, only—recording was an obscure 1972 eight-track tape, Jimmie Dale and the Flatlanders, that turned the band into an insider’s legend. The core members of the group were Joe Ely, Butch Hancock, and Jimmie Dale Gilmore. Each went on to build intriguing solo careers: Ely made his name mostly as a rocker, and toured with The Clash for a time; Hancock is a consummate songwriter, with a sidelines in architecture and photography. After the first Flatlanders album fizzled (the result of a Nashville swindle), Gilmore didn’t make another for sixteen years. Today, though, he has seven acclaimed solo records under his belt, the latest of which, Come On Back, was the third to be nominated for a Grammy. Over the decades, the members of the Flatlanders (the name comes from a term for natives of the stark plain of the Texas panhandle) have remained friends and reunite to play, write, and record. The 1990 reissue on CD of the original 1972 sessions was aptly titled More a Legend Than a Band.

Jimmie Dale Gilmore possesses a haunting singing voice, rich and quavering, with a nasal, high-lonesome tone that gives it a lingering poignancy. And remarkably, Gilmore has staked his claim in the worlds of traditional folk and alternative country music with songs whose lyrics are the unmistakable poetry of a dharma student. On Braver Newer World, an album he made in 1996, Gilmore recorded “Outside the Lines”:

I painted myself into a corner But footprints Are just about to become part of my design Now that I’ve found myself Over the line. And I cannot blame anybody But myself Cause every single choice I ever made was mine And now I find myself A little outta line.

Whether or not Gilmore intended it to be, “Outside the Lines” is a tidy tribute to the teachings on karma and the Third Noble Truth: there is a path out. “My Mind’s Got a Mind of Its Own”—a peppy, honky-tonk number by Butch Hancock, which Gilmore recorded on his 1991 album, After Awhile, and often refers to as his “theme song”—could be taken as a paean to the struggling meditator: “My mind’s got a mind of its own/ It takes me out awalkin’ when I’d rather stay at home/ Makes me go to parties when I’d rather be alone/ Oh, my mind’s got a mind of its own.” Critics, who love easy monikers, have dubbed him the “Zen Cowboy.”

Gilmore doesn’t study Zen, and he doesn’t come from ranch people, but he is, in fact, a Buddhist. He studies under Tulku Thubten Rinpoche, a young Tibetan lama from the Nyingma lineage who now lives in Berkeley, California. But Gilmore recorded “My Mind’s Got a Mind of Its Own” long before he considered himself a Buddhist. To practitioners who are also fans of Texas roadhouse music, his songs seem like anthems to the dharma, set to music that conveys the austere, romantic spaciousness of the West.

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