They Had Everything

Lubbock, Texas is so flat the highest point is the top of the freshest grave. It's hot and mean and ugly, but amazingly enough, in 1972, it was home to Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Butch Hancock, and Joe Ely, who met and formed a band there. Three cosmic cowboys in search of an American music, the Flatlanders made an album of future standards, released only on 8-track in 1972, and split up. They spent the next three decades wandering in and out of each other's careers and clearing a path for MFA country kids like Laura Cantrell, who opened for them last Wednesday at Irving Plaza. Their new and second record, Now Again, doesn't have another "Tonight I'm Gonna Go Downtown" or anything that moved the crowd like Hancock's raucous and randy "West Texas Waltz," but "I Thought the Wreck Was Over" is everything you'd want from a roadhouse song: broad humor, self-pity, Teutonic rhythms, witty phrasing (Ely wrings out the word wreck like a filthy washcloth), mordant eschatology: "At first I'd thought I'd died and gone to heaven/In fact I had lived and gone to hell." (On the other hand, "Pay the Alligator" veers uncomfortably close to Margaritaville.)

A message from the action man
photo: Courtesy of The Museum Television and Radio
A message from the action man

Now that they can each claim a following, Gilmore doesn't hog the vocal duties; for his (and their) signature song, "Dallas," he even let Ely sing the first verse, maybe because he had a cold (Jimmie Dale + nasal congestion = Kermit the Frog). They blew through the material with the warm efficiency of the old pros they've become ("More a band than a legend!" yelled a devotee, reversing the name of a reissue); at this rate, by 2032 they'll be ready for Branson. —Josh Goldfein

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