The title of their sole album–recorded in Nashville in 1972 as Jimmie Dale & the Flatlanders but issued in 1990 by Rounder Records as More a Legend Than a Band–pretty much says it all: Texas country-folk heroes Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Joe Ely, and Butch Hancock worked together as the Flatlanders only briefly, in the early 70s, and the “legend” has been mostly fueled by their subsequent solo work. Aside from documenting Gilmore classics like “Dallas” and “Tonight I’m Gonna Go Downtown,” the album foreshadowed the musicians’ proclivity for braiding folk, classic country, old-timey country, blues, rock, and even Cajun music (a fine take on the standard “Jole Blon”) with contemporary, sometimes cosmic lyrics. But after the record got buried, the members scattered, and each slowly accumulated his own cult. Ely, the hardest rocker of the three, busked in the New York subways, then returned home to Lubbock and by 1975 had signed with MCA. Gilmore spent most of the 70s in Denver studying Vedanta philosophy; he moved to Austin in 1980 and made his first solo record in 1988. Hancock, more a songwriter than a performer, worked as an architect and then as now released an album every few years, usually on some tiny label. The three reconvened for a few low-key gigs in the late 80s, but not until they were persuaded to contribute a tune to the sound track of The Horse Whisperer did they reunite for real. “South Wind of Summer,” on which they share the writing credits, is a gorgeous waltz filled with bitter resignation–“The seasons don’t end / They just blow through the branches / And bend with the wind”–and illustrates how each singer has fulfilled his promise over the years: Gilmore’s vulnerable warble has grown prettier, Ely’s gruff delivery more weathered, and Hancock’s nasal croak wiser. While most reunions seem like desperate measures to salvage waning careers, all three Flatlanders seem to be at the peak of their powers, and they’ve reportedly recorded six new songs together. Gilmore’s also just made a wonderful new solo album, One Endless Night–his first since parting ways with Elektra, released on his own Windcharger imprint. Producer Buddy Miller frames his wisp of a voice with the sort of elegantly ethereal arrangements he’s crafted for several Gilmore albums now, but even the most out-there covers (the Grateful Dead’s “Ripple,” Kurt Weill’s “Mack the Knife”) have a directness and presence that have been lacking on those records for some time. Thursday, March 2, 8 PM, Park West, 322 W. Armitage; 773-929-5959 or 312-559-1212. Next Saturday, March 4, 7 and 10 PM, Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln; 773-728-6000. Both the Old Town shows are sold out, but at press time tickets were still available for the Park West gig.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Will Van Overbeek.