Photo: This cover image released by Rack’em Records/Thirty Tigers shows “Treasure of Love” by The Flatlanders. (Rack’em Records/Thirty Tigers via AP)
Do you remember rolling down the windows and cranking up the twang and listening to songs of joy, love and redemption? It is time to grab and beer and bible and rejoin the church of Flatlanders. Their new album Treasure of Love is out now.
FIRST ALBUM IN 12 YEARS
Available now VIA RACK’EM RECORDS & THIRTY TIGERS and streamers everywhere
Completed during COVID-19 lockdowns with the help of longtime friend and collaborator Lloyd Maines, Treasure of Love finds The Flatlanders in classic form, serving up a rollicking collection of twang-fueled, harmony-laden performances full of wry humor and raw heartbreak. While a few of the songs here are never-before-heard originals, the vast majority of the tracklist consists of vintage tunes the band picked up during their 50-year career, some stretching as far back as the group’s earliest performances in the honky tonks around Lubbock, TX.
“I like to say that this album evolved more than it was recorded,” explains Joe Ely, who hosted the initial recording sessions and worked extensively on the tracks at his Spur Studios in Austin, TX. “We’d been chipping away at these songs for a while without ever really finishing anything, so when lockdown started, it seemed like the perfect time to really focus on it.”
The 15 tracks on Treasure of Love revisit songs they enjoyed playing from the early days and capturing them for the sheer joy of it. Not realizing at the time that they were actually making a record, the trio worked fast and loose in the studio, laying down raw, playful takes whenever they had free time between sessions or tours. It was only when the COVID-19 pandemic forced Ely, Gilmore, and Hancock to simultaneously clear all of their calendars that the band realized they had an album on their hands and the time to finally complete it.
“A lot of groups our age are either dead or not speaking to each other anymore,” says Gilmore, “but I think part of the reason The Flatlanders are still together is that we’ve all had our own separate careers along the way. We’re all such strange individualists, but we can co-captain this ship together because every time we come back to it, we feel that same magic we felt when we first started playing together.”
THE FLATLANDERS ADD A BIT OF TEXAS TWANG TO BOB DYLAN’S ‘SHE BELONGS TO ME’
“She Belongs to Me” appears on Treasure of Love, the Flatlanders’ forthcoming new album, their first in more than a decade. The trio recorded the bones of project’s 15 songs at Ely’s own Spur Studios, located in Austin, Texas, before the COVID-19 pandemic, then enlisted legendary musician Lloyd Maines to help them finish the record, which Maines co-produced with Ely and his wife Sharon.
Treasure of Love combines select unreleased originals with favorites from throughout the Flatlanders years together — Townes Van Zandt’s “Snowin’ on Raton” and “She Smiles Like a River” by Leon Russell, for example — which stretch back to the early 1970s. Their most recent album is 2009’s Hills & Valleys, though The Odessa Tapes, which features unreleased recordings from the trio’s earliest sessions, arrived in 2012.
“The thing that’s always struck me about the Flatlanders is that, first and foremost, it’s a band rooted in friendship,” says Gilmore. “Whenever the three of us get together, it all feels so fresh and exciting and unpredictable.”
Between disbanding in 1973 and reuniting after the 1990 reissue of their original recordings, the Flatlanders each cultivated successful solo careers, which continue today. That success, Gilmore reasons, is what’s kept them together as a trio.
“We’re all such strange individualists,” he says, “but we can co-captain this ship together because every time we come back to it, we feel that same magic we felt when we first started playing together.”
Butch Hancock is running a few minutes late on Zoom, but Joe Ely and Jimmie Dale Gilmore catch up onscreen, running through the speculative current whereabouts of various folks as lifelong friends do.
Wrangling the three songwriters together remains one of the Flatlanders’ biggest challenges, even in a virtual setting. Yet the natural camaraderie and jokes flow easily when Hancock appears from his home in Terlingua.
The Flatlanders remain a celestial event, three stars moving in their own orbits that happen to align at rare but spectacular intervals.The Flatlanders remain a celestial event, three stars moving in their own orbits that happen to align at rare but spectacular intervals.
“We all stay in touch and are all always connected, but because of our schedules – we just have such different everything – getting together is a rare luxury,” admits Gilmore. “It just so happens we had gotten together, even though it’s been a year and a half ago now, because the three of us decided it was time to make a concerted effort to get together again for a couple of weeks and do a new project. Then the pandemic happened.
“So we were ripe for doing something, but then we couldn’t.”
Locked down alongside the rest of the world last summer, Ely began digging through the old Flatlanders files at his home studio in Dripping Springs. Among their recordings from the past decades, both in the studio and informal, Ely found cuts of familiar favorites the three had played together throughout their careers.
“During the pandemic, I had been looking through things from different eras,” affirms Ely. “I didn’t think about where it would go, but I thought it would be a good project while on shutdown. We didn’t really know where it was going. Mainly it was just to keep our sanity.
“In that sense, it was a good time, because we had the time.”
“We accidentally happened on this little treasure trove of stuff we had recorded,” adds Gilmore. “They weren’t for a specific project, but because we liked the songs back when we had some time in the studio and some really good musicians with us, Joe had the studio set up. So the fact that they were sitting there ready was just good luck, and Joe jumped on it.”
The recordings struck a chord among the group for the joy and energy they capture in loose performances cut for fun. As Ely continued to excavate songs, what emerged was a history of the Flatlanders, the earliest influences that united the three Lubbock singer-songwriters since the early Seventies. Ever on point, Townes Van Zandt and Bob Dylan make the cull, but so do Leon Russell and Mickey Newbury, George Jones and Ernest Tubb, and several bluegrass standards.
The resulting Treasure of Love, out July 9 as the band’s first LP for powerhouse indie imprint Thirty Tigers, slings a versatile yet impressively cohesive collection. The trio credits Lloyd Maines with taking rough recordings and adding needed over-dubs and production polish.
“These songs are actually, some of ’em, what we would play just sitting around on the porch or the living room floor, because we didn’t have any furniture particularly, and we’d just swap songs,” offers Hancock.
“Each of us brought something to it,” acknowledges Gilmore. “All three of us had a lot in common from our childhood in West Texas, but we all had different tastes in music from when we were learning how to play. We brought that to each other when we got together. The songs were already selected just because they were there, and they were already there just because they were all songs that we like.”
Doesn’t take much to appreciate the Flatlanders. Start with seminal 1990 reissue, More a Legend Than a Band, of the threesome’s 1972 debut, or their last batch of new material, 2009’s exceptional Hills and Valleys. Yet to understand the Flatlanders and the unique alchemy that melds the diverse range of Hancock’s mystical panhandle poetry, Ely’s roots-rock drive, and Gilmore’s emotional hillbilly twang, there’s no better document than Treasure of Love.
“Something happens when a song comes around that feels like the Flatlanders and that place we grew up in in West Texas around Lubbock,” ponders Ely. “It just has this mysterious energy where you can tell a song belongs in your repertoire as your car blows off the road.”
“All of these songs dig something out of our gut,” concludes Hancock. “It’s kind of what we’re made out of. They all represent something to us that we’ve been carrying all through the years.”
08 July 2021 | LINDSEY TANNER | AP via ABC
The Flatlanders “Treasure of Love” (Rack’em Records/Thirty Tigers)
Never has the tremulous twang that is unmistakably Jimmie Dale Gilmore been more welcome than after a year and a half of pandemic strangeness.
Listening to The Flatlanders’ “Treasure of Love” is like strolling into a corner honky-tonk and discovering an old friend on the next barstool. Maybe a little grizzled, telling the same stories, but who cares? You’re together again.
Gilmore, Joe Ely and Butch Hancock first hooked up almost 50 years ago. They’ve since performed together and separately, but The Flatlanders haven’t made an album in more than a decade. Somehow this one manages to sound fresh and relevant, even if the 15 tracks are mostly familiar. Recorded during the pandemic, the selections include tunes made famous by Johnny Cash, Townes Van Zandt, Bob Dylan and others, but the trio gives them all their signature Texas sound.
Gilmore takes the lead on the title track, lending a roadhouse whine to the George Jones classic. The tone changes to boot-scooting playful on Hancock’s “Mama Do the Kangaroo.” Another Hancock original, “Moanin’ of the Midnight Train,” features Ely belting out a bittersweet ode to the woman he misses ‘’every night or two.’’
A smattering of Flatlander friends including guitar wizard Robbie Gjersoe and Lloyd Maines on pedal steel fill out the sound.
They close the album with a rollicking version of “Sittin’ on Top of the World,” taking turns on vocals and Hancock’s expressive harmonica adding flair. It’s a tune that gets the crowd going at the group’s live gigs. Something, perhaps, to look forward to.