Reviewed by Raoul Hernandez, Fri., May 24, 2002
The FlatlandersNow Again (New West) In the spring of 1972, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Joe Ely, and Butch Hancock arrived in Nashville with their small band of Lubbock-based troubadours and a young man's wanderlust. The ensuing sessions yielded only a here-and-gone 8-track tape and a promotional single of Gilmore's now-classic "Dallas," though the group did manage to play the first Kerrville Folk Festival. Until 1990 that is, when Rounder Records released The Flatlanders, More a Legend Than a Band. "It's pretty crude," admits Ely in the liner notes, "but there's a certain flavor about the record. It has an eerie, lonesome sound, which reflected our roots in Lubbock; and the wind, the dust, and the environment." Well put. When the trio regrouped in 1998 to cut a song for the soundtrack to Robert Redford's film The Horse Whisperer, said legend became more of a band. A full 30 years after that Tennessee trek, Now Again's campfire bonhomie proclaims now is now again. "The wind knows how we used to be here now," croons Ely on the title track. "It circles to remind us all, all about the time we used to spend. Don't let it come 'n' go again." Easily interpreted as the three boyhood friends' ode to their enduring bond, "Now It's Now Again," along with a slightly different version of The Horse Whisperer's "South Wind of Summer," finds the Flatlanders at the musical crossroads of Ely's elan, Gilmore's wistful vocal cry, and Hancock's poetic naturalism. If all 14 tracks herein -- 12 of which were collaborated on together by this storied triumvirate of Texas songwriters -- were as good, Now Again would be legend. Instead, there's Gilmore's otherworldly meditation of Utah Phillips-penned opener "Going Away," with its ghosts of Gilmore's "Tonight, I'm Gonna Go Downtown," and his brief, jaunty "Down on Filbert's Rise." Hancock's middle-aged giddiness on "Julia," plus the kindly "You Make It Look Easy," cook up the same rustic warmth that the Big Bend raftsman has come to embody. "I Thought the Wreck Was Over," with its rejoiner, "but here she comes again," is an archetypal elbow in the ribs from Ely. Ditto for Ely's rompy "Pay the Alligator." Kerrvillian good-time sing-alongs "Down in the Light of the Melon Moon," "Right Where I Belong," and the spry "My Wildest Dreams Grow Wilder Every Day" are in perfect harmony. Now Again might not quite attain legendary status, but then again, the Texas Hill Country breeze is its own mythology.