Now Again (New West) is the first new Flatlanders release in three decades–and you could argue that in some ways it’s really the group’s debut. Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Joe Ely, and Butch Hancock met in Lubbock, Texas, cut the Flatlanders’ first album in Nashville in 1972, and then settled in Austin. That record, originally released in a limited run on eight-track tape, quickly became a prized flea-market find–it wasn’t widely available in the States until 1990, when Rounder reissued it as More a Legend Than a Band. But though it forecast the mix of folk, honky-tonk, old-timey country, blues, and rock that each member would later make his calling card (and that lies at the heart of today’s Americana scene), it wasn’t much of a collaborative outing. Gilmore sang lead on all but one track, introducing his classic tunes “Dallas” and “Tonight I’m Gonna Go Downtown,” while Ely didn’t have a single songwriting credit (in fact, the band was originally called “Jimmie Dale & the Flatlanders”). The three members remained friends after the group’s mid-70s dissolution, working together in various combinations and covering one another’s songs, and in 1998, when they were persuaded to contribute a song to the Robert Redford film The Horse Whisperer, they returned to work as the Flatlanders. Over the next four years the trio spent more than 3,000 hours in Ely’s studio making Now Again, and it shows: though Hancock has said writing with two other people is “like riding a horse with three saddles,” the music is seamless. This is no songwriters-in-the-round project masquerading as a band; all but two of the album’s fourteen tracks were composed collaboratively by the whole trio, and only a few clearly belong to one writer more than the others. All three members share lead vocal duties, sometimes trading verses, and the lyrics apply measured reflection, sage resignation, and dry humor (“Yesterday was judgment day, how’d you do?”) to philosophical ruminations and tales of longing and imperfect love. Since first convening over 30 years ago, the Flatlanders have accumulated more than just layers of myth–they’ve gained real poetic wisdom. Thursday, August 8, 8 PM, Skyline Stage, Navy Pier, 600 E. Grand; 312-595-7437 or 312-559-1212.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Will Vanoverbeek.