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Various Artists "Threadgill's Supper Session" Watermelon Records

August 19, 1993|JIM WASHBURN

The title of this live album may well be a play on the all-star "Super Session" jam album of the '60s, but there the resemblance ends.

The biggest names here, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock, are little known outside their cults, and the other artists are from the seemingly endless pool of great unknowns with which Austin, Tex., abounds.

And the music is anything but an ego-serving display of licks. As the title implies, this is music you can eat to, music that is warmly welcoming instead of demanding, making this 1991-recorded album one of the most delightful sleepers to come out so far this year.

Threadgill's may be a laid-back barbecue restaurant today, but it also is the virtual Alamo of the Texas independent music scene. In the mid-1930s, Threadgill's opened as a combination gas station/beer hall on the then-outskirts of Austin, where owner Kenneth Threadgill liked to pump gas and yodel.

By the '60s, the place housed the local folk scene, and it was where Janis Joplin got her start and where Gilmore and others got a chance to find and hone their distinctive talents.

Gilmore led the house band for years, and he returns here to share vocals with current bandleader Champ Hood. Fiddler-guitarist Hood's easygoing vocals work like a cold beer on "Stag-O-Lee," Hank Williams' "Long Gone Lonesome" and others. Guest Sarah Elizabeth Campbell, who hosts a weekly "Bummer Night" of torch songs at Austin's La Zona Raza, make appropriately sad work of "Sad Situation," echoed by a fine harmony vocal from blues singer Marcia Ball.

There are other fine vocal performances, and the playing throughout is exemplary and quietly emotional. The outstanding gem here, though, is Gilmore. His unique quavery high voice is peculiarly American, as mixed with the earth of this nation as Hank Williams' whine was, and you nearly expect to hear it coming off a scratchy 78 on a Victrola instead of a compact disc on a CD player.

Here, he and Hood trade verses on a sympathetic version of Jimmie Rodgers' "Waiting for a Train," and he seems equally at home singing the Delmore Brothers' "Brown's Ferry Blues," with the fine line: "Well I don't smoke and I don't chew, and I don't go with the gals that do."

Gilmore is at the opposite end of the vocal range from Johnny Cash's deep river-dredging pipes, but his version of Cash's "Train of Love" makes time stand still, particularly on the sad, classically Cash line:

, "Every so often everybody's baby gets the urge to roam, But everybody's baby but mine's coming home."

That and his shared vocal with Butch Hancock on the latter's delicate love song "Bluebird" make one wish they'd follow up "Supper Session" with a dessert CD or two.

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