When the Flatlanders' long-neglected first album was reissued in the early '90s, a couple of decades after being released only on eight-track by an obscure label, it was called More a Legend Than a Band. In fact, long busy with solo careers, Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, and Butch Hancock wouldn't be a band again until they were asked to write a song for The Horse Whisperer soundtrack, and subsequently returned with their first full album in 30 years, 2002's Now Again. The legend and the band are in prime form on the Flatlanders' new Hills and Valleys (New West), which finds the three compadres still honing that wiry, haunting, wind-whipped, West Texas mix of country, folk, roots rock, and Tex-Mex while casually tossing off brilliant, grit-flecked, existentialist treatises on the state of the world. The lead track, "Homeland Refugee," is an anthem for these hard times, Ely's wistful, weary vocals mourning the desiccated American dream ("I lost my home when the deal went bust/To the so-called security and trust"). It's a theme that ripples through the album, picked up especially on the fine cover of Woody Guthrie's "Sowing on the Mountain." But these three master songsmiths (mostly writing together) offer philosophical glimmers of hope too, such as the rollicking, get-up-off-your-butt, New Orleans-tinged, honky-tonk tune "Just About Time," and amid glorious, pedal-steel-driven anthems like Ely's "Love's Own Chains." 21+.
Sun., April 26, 6 p.m., 2009