Some music is simply meant to make you feel good. Western swing certainly does that, and Johnny Gimble, one of the genre’s fiddle and mandolin virtuosos, is still swingin’ at 84. Celebrating With Friends is guaranteed to put a smile on your face and set your boots to tappin’.
The consummate sideman, Texas-native Gimble is a nine-time Academy of Country Music Fiddler of the Year, two-time Grammy award winner, and an NEA Master Artist.
Gimble’s studio credits read like the roster of the Country Music Hall of Fame: Bob Wills, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Waylon Jennings, George Strait. Many of those friends return for this album.
A couple of old classics sing a couple of old classics — Merle Haggard on “Sweet Georgia Brown” and Willie Nelson doing “Lady Be Good.”
Ten of the 14 tracks are Gimble originals, and the album opens with a fascinating spoken recollection of his early days playing for Peacemeker Flour in North Texas on a flatbed truck. The man’s been around, even appearing as Bob Wills in the Clint Eastwood film Honkeytonk Man.
Asleep At The Wheel are a big presence, as Ray Benson produced the album and plays acoustic guitar, while Jason Roberts is featured throughout on fiddle and electric mandolin — he’s superb on the lilting Gimble original, “Gardenia Waltz.”
“Owed to Johnny Gimble” is an original Garrison Keillor song taken from a 1994 performance on A Prairie Home Companion. It’s a charming little ditty.
“Under the X in Texas” is another of many highlights, with Ray Benson taking vocals. “Mandelopin'” showcases Gimble’s mandolin and fiddle mastry, as well as some mighty fancy piano from Danny Levin.
On the penultimate cut, Gimble asks the rhetorical question, “What do you do when you just can’t do what you did when you did what you did?” Fortunately for us, Johnny Gimble can still do what he did when he does what he does.
These days he can be seen playing out occasionally with his granddaughter Emily at spots like Guero’s Taco Bar around Austin, TX.