The Flatlanders: Now Again

The Flatlanders: Now Again

Apart from one track recorded for the soundtrack to 1998's The Horse Whisperer, Now Again represents The Flatlanders' first release since 1972, when Sun Records botched an album's distribution to the point where the group's audience was limited to those scouring 8-track bargain bins for lost treasures. Those bargain-hunters did hear music of a sort they could never have heard before—part traditional folk and country, part Texas blues and swing, and part twilight and stardust. There's little hyperbole in those recordings' 1990 reissue title, More A Legend Than A Band. A year later, The Flatlanders' members quietly went their separate ways. It could have been another story of an act tragically unappreciated in its own time but greatly influential in others, but the intervening years didn't allow that. Key members Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Butch Hancock, and Joe Ely went on to distinguished solo careers, but they kept in touch, recording each other's songs and even touring together in recent years. In some respects, it's as if The Flatlanders never went away, which helps ease the burden of expectation carried by Now Again. Simply by sticking around, it's become as much a band as a legend. Thirty years after The Flatlanders' debut, a lot of artists have caught up with the group, and what seemed radical in 1972 now sounds commonplace to alt-country listeners. Now Again isn't revelatory, but it features plenty of good music. The album, which was recorded over the course of several years, sounds like a true group effort, and the interaction of all three voices remains one of The Flatlanders' most striking features. (Another, Steve Wesson's spectral saw playing, deserves more prominence than Ely's production allows.) The songs are united by a concern with growing old and with the passing of time, but Gilmore, Ely, and Hancock mostly show their ages in the lyrics of songs like "My Wildest Dreams Grow Wilder Every Day" and "Yesterday Was Judgement Day." If anything, their music seems more relaxed than before, as if they enjoy playing together more now that their lives don't depend on it. In the course of songs like the jokey "Pay The Alligator," The Flatlanders may lose some of the stateliness of its legend, but the group's members have done so much for so long that it's hard to begrudge them a good time.

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