(Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Joe Ely and Butch Hancock)
::: LIVE ::: Vicar Street, Dublin - July 29th,
The Texas Legends Only Irish Show of the Year!
Tickets are €38 on sale now through Ticketmaster and other
usual outlets nationwide. Booking Line: 0818 719 390
"Hills And Valleys" – Out Now on New West Records
Dale Gilmore, Joe Ely and Butch
Hancock have been friends for almost 40 years, and members
of that not-really-a-band, life-of-its-own musical entity known
as The Flatlanders for nearly as long. They will
be performing live together at Vicar St. this July 29th.
But when the trio decided to collaborate on songwriting for Hills
And Valleys, the fourth in a rather elongated string of
Flatlanders albums, they realized it wouldn't be
easy. They'd done it before for one thing, first for the soundtrack
to the 1998 film The Horse Whisperer, then for
their "reunion" album, 2002's Now Again.
So they already knew they'd be as likely to spend hours trading
tales and laughing uproariously as they would trying to agree on
And they knew how long that could stretch out, too. "Sometimes
we'd work on one line of a song for several days," Ely
reveals. "That's just one line, not a verse. It's hard
to please all three of us at once."
But for Hills and Valleys, they not only managed
to come up with eight eloquent joint efforts, they added Ely's "Love's
Own Chains" and "There's Never Been,"
Hancock's "Thank God For The Road," one
by Gilmore's son, Colin ("The Way We Are"),
and, for good measure, their arrangement of Woody Guthrie's
"Sowing on the Mountain." That one serves
not only as an homage to one of their musical guideposts but, as
Hancock notes, a representation of the album's general theme: "the
ups and downs, emotionally, of peoples' lives these days."
"One moment you're sitting on top of the world,"
he explains, "and the next, you're ‘sowing on the
mountain and reaping in the valleys.'"
They didn't set out with an agenda, but what Ely calls "the
heavy-dutiness" of the last eight years-9/11, Katrina,
Iraq, border walls going up while the economy careened downward-all
were definitely on their minds as they wrote.
"Even though all of us are very active politically, a lot
of times we don't want to bring certain things into our songs,"
Ely explains. "This time, we had to say, ‘Hey, let's
look at this, not in a pushy way, but really
figuring it out in our own heads. Putting it into a song and trying
to unravel it.'"
The psychological approach. Which explains how a song called "After
The Storm" never mentions a specific deluge, but examines,
via Gilmore's gentle tremolo, the feelings of loss and aloneness
one might experience "looking out after the storm, wondering
what to do and where to go."
That was the first song they came up with. The last was "Homeland
Refugee," which addresses foreclosures and the "so-called
security trust," though it was composed months before
the credit crunch triggered a string of bank failures that unleashed
even more economic calamity.
The song was partly inspired by an irony they saw in the current
"reverse migration" of Californians to Texas,
because their families had been part of the original Dust Bowl exodus.
As they wrote at Hancock's home in Terlingua (writing sessions were
also held in Austin, where Gilmore and Ely live), they also watched
the construction of a wall designed to prevent Mexican people from
migrating to America. Telling a simple story in simple words, they
cut right to the core of these complex issues. An overt reference
to Guthrie's "Pastures of Plenty" and
an implied one to his "Deportee (Plane Crash at Los
Gatos)" further allude to those hills and valleys
of earth and life-which they put in irrefutable perspective in the
line: For everything this world is worth, we're all just migrants
on this earth, returning to the dust from where we came.
"After the Storm" and "Homeland
Refugee" form a trilogy of sorts with the Tex-Mex-flavored
"Borderless Love." Over the jaunty notes
of honorary Flatlander Joel Guzman's accordion, the song draws the
conclusion: A wall is a mirror, it can only reveal/one side of the
story that passes for real.
But not all of these tracks are so obviously topical. "Just
About Time" makes seeming allusions to a long-needed
change in leadership, but it's also a song about mortality-the happiest
little rocker about death you're likely to ever whistle inside the
shower. It prominently features that early Flatlanders staple, Steve
Wesson's singing saw-which automatically adds levity just by the
weirdness of its sound. Another original Flatlander, Tony Pearson,
performs mandolin and sings harmony on the disc; both were heard
on the band's first recording, that long-fabled entity from 1972
that finally got a proper release 20 years later with the title,
More A Legend Than A Band.
Though Ely produced its follow-up, Now Again, and
2004's Wheels of Fortune, Hills and Valleys
was produced by another old friend who grew up in the cotton-furrowed
flatlands of Lubbock: Lloyd Maines.
to their long musical history with Maines (he was a member of
Ely's band for years and produced Gilmore's Hightone Records debut),
Gilmore points out a trait that further strengthens their bond:
Maines' off-the-wall sense of humor is similar to theirs. His
Dixie Chick connection apparently didn't hurt, either; daughter
Natalie's bandmate Martie Maguire contributed some fiddle. A who's-who
of Austin sidemen (and friends) also participated: Robbie
Gjersoe on guitars; Glenn Fukunaga on
bass; Rafael Gayol on drums; Bukka Allen
on keyboards and accordion; Brian Standefer on
cello; and Pat Manske on percussion. Maines played
steel, mandolin, banjo and guitar, and contributed harmonies.
Perhaps all that involvement makes him an honorary Flatlander,
too. But none of them takes the designation too seriously. As
with each Flatlanders album or tour, no one knows about a next
one; they're a product of fate, chance, inspiration, the gods
... and come around when they come around. They've each got successful
solo careers to keep up as well.
But here they are, 37 years after they were prodded into recording
together the first time, still collaborating-and still the best
of friends. In his soft Texas drawl, Ely sums the philosophy behind
their creativity: "We might as well write music and make
songs up, because there's not anything that we'd rather be doing."
"Hills And Valleys" Tracklisting:
After The Storm
Wishing For A Rainbow
No Way I’ll Never Need you
Just About Time
Love’s Own Chains
Cry For Freedom
The Way We Are
Thank God For The Road
Free The Wind
Sowing On The Mountain
fact that Texas music titans Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock
- on their first go-round as The Flatlanders in 1972 - were completely
rejected by the country music establishment is surprising in retrospect
but, ultimately, poetic. That each went on to have formidable solo careers
is a testament to their talent and determination. Add to this their diverse
yet complimentary styles – Joe the street-wise rocker, Jimmie Dale
the mystic with the classic country voice and Butch the cerebral folk
singer – and you’ve got a story of one of the most extraordinary
kinships in American musical history.
It took these Flatlanders a mere three decades to release the sequel to
their legendary debut. So the swift arrival of the group's latest New
West album Wheels of Fortune—which comes hard on the heels of 2002’s
widely acclaimed Now Again—is a delightful and very welcome surprise.
The fourteen songs that make up Wheels Of Fortune are absolute wonders
of song craft, sung by three of the most authentic voices in music today.
Joe, Jimmie and Butch initially
reunited as The Flatlanders in 1998 to do a one-off recording, at the
behest of Robert Redford’s people, for the soundtrack of The Horse
Whisperer. It was so much fun, the trio regrouped and cut an entire album.
The result, Now Again, was unanimously received as a triumph. Mojo Magazine
dubbed them a “country Beatles.” Rolling Stone gave it 3 &
1/2 stars. The Washington Post said, “Given the jaw-dropping quality
of the disc, three decades almost seems a reasonable wait.” Billboard
raved, “An event record that lives up to all expectations.”
Now Again spent 17 weeks at #1 on the Americana charts and 21 weeks on
the Billboard Country charts.
It was only a matter of weeks
after the band had completed an 80-date U.S. and European tour when they
re-entered the studio.
“Once you get somebody
on stage, it’s kind of hard to get ‘em off,” Hancock
says with a laugh. “Once we got a roll going, it felt good to keep
working on something.”
“We didn't want to go
another 30 years before we made a record,” Ely says. “After
our last date of the tour, we were talking about it on the bus. We said,
‘Well, ought to just get together while the band is hot and fresh
and record. Not even think about it.’ Basically, that's what we
did. We didn’t plan it or anything. We just sat down and started
recording songs that we'd like to hear on tape. That’s what this
In March 2003, the Flatlanders
and their band—Robbie Gjersoe (guitars, banjo, vocals), Steve Wesson
(musical saw), Tony Pearson (vocals), Gary Herman (bass), and Chris Searles
(drums)—convened at Joe Ely’s Austin studio, with Ely again
producing. Guests included steel guitarist (and noted producer) Lloyd
Maines, guitarist Mitch Watkins, and accordionist Joel Guzman. The Flatlanders
ended up cutting more than 30 songs, 14 of which appear on Wheels of Fortune.
Some of the tunes are brand new while others have been kicking around
in the individual repertoires of Ely, Gilmore, and Hancock for some time.
Hancock reflects, “We
came together as a bunch of friends who happened to be musicians, too.
There’s just that crazy Lubbock mystery to it. We’ve all had
our focus on the quality of the songs and the music, instead of any kind
of ‘me first’ thing, or any kind of ego trips. It’s
almost like the old Marx Brothers thing: Three guys get to the door at
the same time, and they all say, ‘Oh, no, you go first.’ ‘No,
you go first.’ ‘No, please, please, you go first.’”
Ely adds, “We’ve
always been close, but now I think that we all realize that this is something
that is really special. There are very few people who have remained as
close as we have, especially in the music world. There are cases out there
where brothers won’t even talk to each other because they’ve
been in the music business together. We consider this a real precious
“For it to still be as
much fun as it was in the beginning, I feel blessed,” says Gilmore.
“A lot of musicians don’t get that luxury.”