Flatlands and high expectations

CDs in the morning mail, several of them. The first one in the CD player and the only one still playing — Now Again from The Flatlanders (scheduled for release May 21).

I didn’t really mean to listen to Now Again four straight times, but it’s like a good book — you don’t want to put it down.

I’m predisposed to like this CD, I guess. I already own every CD Jimmie Dale Gilmore ever put out, plus several Joe Ely LPs and I look upon Butch Hancock as one of the Southwest’s great songwriters. But even with high expectations, I’m still thoroughly impressed with Now Again. It’s 14 tracks of love and longing and the Texas twang that made the first collection of Flatlanders recordings such a classic.

Of course, few of use heard those first Flatlander songs until the early 1980s, after the reputations of Ely, Gilmore and Hancock were established quite apart from the Flatlanders, when More a Leg and than a Band was released. The Flatlanders first got together in Lubbock in the early 1970s, when there was no alt-country, only a bunch of rednecks in Bakersfield, some hillbillies in Nashville and maybe a few hippies in California with a steel guitar. The Flatlanders independently of the California country-rock revolution put a saw (yes, a saw can be a musical instrument) to their honky-tonk-meets-the-Beatles inclinations and created a fresh sound.

Unfortunately, few listeners, even in their native Lubbock, were ready for what the Flatlanders offered. Of course, songs off that first set of recordings would become alt-country standards, such as “Dallas” and “Tonight I’m Going Downtown.” Despite the slow start, the Flatlanders became every bit as important to the development of alt-country as Gram Parsons and Townes Van Zandt, and Ely and Gilmore became its chief practicers.

Now, older and wiser, with no new group material in three decades, the Flatlanders have mustered their considerable talents and managed to meld their different approaches to country music in, once again, a single cohesive package.

And I’ve got another great CD to add to my collection.

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