THE FLATLANDERS: LONG TIME A'COMING AND WORTH THE WAIT
by Dave Madeloni
American Reporter Correspondent
NORTHAMPTON, Mass. -- The last time the Flatlanders tried to put out a record, there were no VCR, Marlon Brando was mumbling away as The Godfather, Bobby Fischer outfoxed Boris Spassky for the World Chess Championship, Sammy Davis Jr's sickly sweet "Candy Man" topped the charts, Mark Spitz cleaned up the gold in the tragic Munich Olympics, Vietnam still raged, and I was daydreaming my way through High School. To the best of my recollection, anyway.
Meanwhile down in Lubbock, Texas Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Joe Ely, and Butch Hancock, three free-spirits who shared a house and an appreciation for The Beatles, The Blues, biking, and books, recorded a batch of songs that Nashville summarily rejected. Instead, The Flatlanders debut was released on a handful of eight-track tapes by Plantation Records.
The disappointed but undaunted trio went about their merry way as solo artists, eventually helping to define the Texas/Poet singer-songwriter sensibility along with their troubadour contemporaries, Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark and Terry Allen. As their notoriety increased, so did the demand for that obscure 1972 eight-track, so in 1990, the trio released the album as a CD with the fitting title, "More Legend Than A Band= ." Hancock, Ely and Gilmore continued to play each others songs, pal arou= nd, and occasionally join each other for impromptu jams.
On stage, Gilmore often jokes about how songs like Ely's "Because Of The Wind" is "really a Jimmie Dale Gilmore song that Joe Ely wrote." Ely, who has the largest following of the three, often performs Gilmore compositions ("Dallas" is a concert staple) and included Hancock's "She Finally Spoke Spanish To Me" on his best record, 1995's "Letter To Laredo." They are not only buddies, they are musical soulmates and each other's biggest fans.
Three long decades after their original collaboration, The Flatlanders have finally returned with "Now Again," a compelling collection that proves to be well worth the wait, a culmination of enduring friendships, mutual artistic admiration and over ninety years worth of songwriting experience.
The threesome's kinship and fondness for each other is reflected in the jovial esprit de corps that emanates from their performances and the magical songcraft that has been honed over the course of thirty yeas. Each has developed a distinct style- Ely, the Lone Star Springsteen roots rocker, Hancock, the Dylanesque wordsmith, and Gilmore, the Zen philosopher with the distinctive high-lonesome singing voice. When the three unite, the chemistry is unmistakable. As Ely says in their press kit, "There is something unique that only happens when the three of us get together."
"Now Again" opens with a haunting cover of Utah Phillips' "Going Away," featuring Gilmore's plaintive vocals, followed by Hancock's melodic and enigmatic "Julia." The other dozen rootsy tracks are the result of writing partnerships by all three Flatlanders. The postmodern honky-tonk of "Wavin' My Heart Goodbye" is at once familiar and unique, while "Down By The Light Of The Melon Moon," is a spooky montage with abandoned airstrips, "a military truck by a cemetery wall," and "a sketch on a napkin torn in half." "South Wind of Summer," which was also recorded for "The Horse Whisperer" soundtrack, features harmonies as warm as a Texas Spring and features some gorgeous mandolin fills by Paul Glasser. The CD is a collective autobiography, featuring two familiar ingredients of a Flatlanders song - the wind and moonlight, (We learned to love each other/Like the mountain and the river when they bend/Like ripples in the moonlight/They're here and now and they're gone again.) One hopes that The Flatlanders, who are making a rare tour together through the Eastern states right now, will be back again in a lot less than 30 years.
August 15 through 31, the Flatlanders will be playing in Northampton and Boston, MA, Portland, ME, Allegheny, PA, Alexandria, VA, Cleveland OH, Richmond and Norfolk, VA, Philadelphia, PA, Chapel Hill and Charlotte, NC, Greenville, SC, Atlanta, GA, and Newport, KY. Check your local paper for listings.
Dave Madeloni is a freelance writer who lives in Northampton, Mass. He can be reached at email@example.com.