Picks and Pans Review: After Awhile

updated 10/28/1991 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 10/28/1991 AT 01:00 AM EST

Jimmie Dale Gilmore

One of five artists featured in the inaugural set of recordings in the Elektra Nonesuch "American Explorer" series, Gilmore blends country, honky-tonk, folk and blues into his richly imagined songs of love, loneliness, folly and fear.

Like his idols Hank Williams and the lesser-known but no-less-talented Lefty Frizzell, whose voices hauntingly mixed the earthy and the ethereal, Gilmore's west Texas tremolo resonates with deep and often dark emotion. Throughout, Gilmore's band provides just the tight-but-true chords and choruses that his tunes require.

A first-rate lyricist who has been writing and performing since the 1960s, Gilmore is only one of the musicians who make the Explorer series exciting and—by drawing attention to overlooked artists—educational.

Representing the blues side of the series (all of it recorded in the past year) is ex—Chuck Berry pianist and songwriter Johnnie Johnson. It was Johnson who hired Berry in 1952 to play in his band and who then went on to assist Berry through such classics as "Maybelline" and "Roll Over Beethoven." On Johnnie B. Bad, Johnson rock-and-rolls his way through 12 tunes, with help from such talented admirers as Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, who produced two of the cuts, and NRBQ's Terry Adams, who produced the rest.

Rounding out this exemplary series are albums by veteran Zydeco bandleader Boozoo Chavis, whose much-covered "Paper in My Shoe" was a minor hit back in 1954; gospel saxophone wonder Vernard Johnson, whose squealing, soaring riffs are just barely containable on CD, and rockabilly wildman Charlie Feathers, co-writer of Elvis Presley's first hit, "I Forgot to Remember to Forget." (Elektra Nonesuch)

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