Beholden to no-one but themselves, The Flatlanders’ dogleg career is impossible to second guess. Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock first got together in 1972, but their proto-Americana – a porous blend of country, folk, rock’n’roll and western swing – fell largely on deaf ears outside their home state of Texas. They were done in a little over a year, the band taking on semi-mythic status (their aborted debut eventually landed in 1990) as each member advanced into a successful solo career.
Treasure Of Love, their first studio effort in 12 years, might not have happened at all if it hadn’t been for the pandemic. The trio began recording these tracks some time ago, only finding time to revisit them when the touring circuit shut. Co-produced by longtime collaborator and fellow Lubbock legend Lloyd Maines, it’s a wondrous celebration of the music that’s sustained them over the decades, much of it part of their stage repertoire.
The Flatlanders exude joy here. Popularised in the late ’50s by The Everly Brothers, Long Time Gone is a faultless distillation of timeless honky-tonk; Johnny Cash’s Give My Love To Rose takes on the requisite Tennessee Two chug; country licks
and pedal steel spark the engine of Leon Russell’s exuberant She Smiles Like A River. Hancock’s own Moanin’ Of The Midnight Train, revived from his ’90s solo catalogue, feels of a piece too, with its raw swing and spacious Texan groove.
The trio’s ability to fully inhabit these songs is masterful. Their take on Snowin’ On Raton, Townes Van Zandt’s cursed road hymn, manages to sound both expansive and vulnerable, its conflicted sentiments measured out in aching peals of slide guitar. Similarly, Paul Siebel’s The Ballad Of Honest Sam is reconfigured into something that Hank Williams might have deemed worthy of cutting for MGM. But the indomitable spirit of Treasure Of Love is best captured on the Mississippi Sheiks’ Sittin’ On Top Of The World, a rollicking live favourite that feels like a paean to lasting friendship.