The Flatlanders

More a Legend Than a Band

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In any other circumstance, that title would be hyperbole, but in the case of the Flatlanders, it's the simple truth. Although their only commercial release during their nearly four-year existence was an eight track on the tacky Plantation label, bandleaders Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Joe Ely, and Butch Hancock went on to become pioneers in alternative country, directly influencing bands ranging from Uncle Tupelo to Ely disciples the Clash. This 1990 reissue gives that eight track a proper digital release for the first time ever (minus two weaker tracks, covers of the country standards "Hello Stranger" and "Waiting for a Train"), plus four previously unreleased tracks recorded during the same March 1972 sessions. The Flatlanders didn't fit in at all in early-'70s Nashville, both because their music is too weird (Gilmore, a devout Buddhist, contributes a song of devotion called "Bhagavan Decreed," and non-musician Steve Wesson contributes musical saw to the proceedings) and, frankly, too country. Tunes like the heartbreaking "Tonight I'm Gonna Go Downtown" have much more in common with Lefty Frizzell and Jimmie Rodgers than the countrypolitan glop of the era. The percussionless, all-acoustic instrumentation is akin to traditional bluegrass, but the gentle, easygoing vibe (tempos barely even break into a trot on the entire album) are much more akin to mellow hippie folk-rock à la Pearls Before Swine. Every song is a small gem, with "Downtown" and Gilmore's career highlight, "Dallas," being the very best of a uniformly fabulous lot. The entire '90s alt-country movement can trace its genesis to these powerful and underappreciated songs.

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