Jul 09, 2021
By Mark Moody
You would have to look long and hard to find another band whose primary members all have their own names emblazoned on the Walk of Fame. Of course, we are talking Lubbock’s West Texas Walk of Fame and the musical trio of Joe Ely, Butch Hancock, and Jimmie Dale Gilmore. Their plaques are mixed right in there with Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison, and Waylon Jennings, amongst dozens of other dust-loving creative types. The three high school friends made their initial recordings as The Flatlanders (musical saw accompaniment and all) in the early ’70s. Those recordings didn’t see much of the light of day until nearly 20 years on when re-issued as More a Legend Than a Band.
If legends some 30 years ago, now in their mid-70s, the trio has had much to add to their status over the years. Ely toured with The Clash and trained up plenty of nascent guitarists, like Charlie Sexton. Hancock held court for six nights at the Cactus Café on the University of Texas campus where he sang 140 of his own songs (none repeated) and Townes Van Zandt made a split-second appearance. And Gilmore used to sing for his supper at Austin’s Threadgill’s, where Janis Joplin got her start, and which closed for good last year. Aside from The Clash tour, I can bear witness to those things and dozens of other performances over the decades.
So it comes as a comfort that life-long friends are still making music together and Treasure of Love finds them in fine fettle. Though Gilmore was the primary vocalist in the band’s earlier days, their modus operandi of late is to take turns on lead vocals, and each has their distinctive voice that remains ever recognizable. With a generous 15 tracks here, it’s worth pointing out each member’s high water marks. Ely’s comes early on the opening track, “Moanin’ of the Midnight Train,” which was penned by Hancock. Ely’s vocals remain strong and his energy on level with a burlap sack full of ball lightning. The consummate entertainer of the bunch, you can still envision him leaning hard into the crowd.
Hancock’s vocals are the leatheriest, but that has always been the case. Surprisingly, his best turn and the goofiest one comes on “Mama Does the Kangaroo.” It’s a fast-paced two-stepper modeled somewhat after “Daddy Sang Bass,” but sure to get the sawdust flying down at the Broken Spoke honky-tonk. The way he wraps his voice around “I saw the giraffe drinking a longneck brew,” is worth the price of admission. And though Gilmore’s high tenor seems most fragile and likely to have faded, nothing could be further from the truth. A world class interpreter all his life, his spritely cover of Bob Dylan’s “She Belongs to Me” is a career-topping best.
At the end of the album, the longtime friends take turns on alternating stanzas pulled from different interpretations of the Mississippi Sheiks’ chestnut, “Sittin’ on Top of the World.” Hancock takes the sillier moments, Ely the full-throated ones, and Gilmore just breezes on through. The song also showcases legendary producer Lloyd Maines on acoustic slide, getting into a full on tussle with Robbie Gjersoe’s blistering lead.
The Flatlanders’ post-2000 releases make for entertaining listens, but their earliest works should be sought out, as well as each’s solo turns. Ely’s 1977 debut album is still a stunner, Gilmore’s Spinning Around the Sun a study in patient delivery, and you can jump in anywhere with Hancock, you’re just likely going to need a cassette deck. ’Til next time fellas. (www.theflatlanders.com)
Author rating: 7.5/10
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