Reviewed by Raoul Hernandez, Fri., June 12, 2009
The FlatlandersTexas Union Ballroom, June 4
Leading contender for local release of the year, the Flatlanders' Hills and Valleys finds West Texas' Father, Son, and Holy Ghost strolling the Himalayas. To an expectant, seated crowd of 600-plus upstairs in the UT Student Union, the three lifelong comrades delivered an airtight blast of charisma, song godliness, and Lone Star élan. Backed by Rob Gjersoe's guitar leads goosing a rhythm section of onetime Joe Ely road hog Jimmy Pettit and drummer Pat Manske, the two-thirds local trio trampolined a sonically detailed high-wire act of three distinct singer-songwriters raising their song in unison. Opening with Carter Family fave "Hello Stranger," Ely and Jimmie Dale Gilmore traded lines with a real-time sense of no net below. No sooner did the room resume breathing than Gilmore engaged Butch Hancock on his right. Then Ely and Hancock took turns. For the next 100 minutes, including two encores, the threesome's Gordian knot of harmony, narrative, and stand-up comedy disguised a songwriter swap as a Work Projects Administration rally – at a campsite. Ely remains Huck Finn, while Gilmore's silver-mane profile belongs on a coin in contrast to Hancock, who might as well stamp the $50 bill. Hills and Valleys double-A side twofer "Homeland Refugee" and "Borderless Love" carve contemporary politics into Woody Guthrie-esque Americana. Hancock-led "Thank God for the Road" rang out like Friday Night Lights. Ryan Bingham encored his opening 30 minutes of craggy-voiced shit-kickers ("I was hanging out with Joe Ely last night. ... I think I lost a little talent") by taking up another acoustic guitar and joining his forebearers in church chorus Flatlanders original "Sowing on the Mountain." In the finale, Ely's "I Had My Hopes Up High" and Townes Van Zandt's steamrolling "White Freight Liner Blues" reaped and sowed exhilaration until Terry Allen's "Gimme a Ride to Heaven Boy" left the congregation lit up for paradise.