The Flatlanders 

Now Again

With the release of their second album in thirty years, the Flatlanders make good on a reputation that's rested on the latter-day impact of their 1972 debut and the solo careers of the band's legendary Texas constituents -- Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Butch Hancock, and Joe Ely. Their first record, released initially on eight-track tape, took eight years to reach vinyl, and another decade to reach CD. Its delayed discovery has had a steady, seeping influence on the alt.country landscape.

In the intervening three decades, the Flatlanders have existed ethereally through the member's long-standing friendships, fed by appearances on one another's solo albums, the occasional one-off performance, and, finally, this sophomore LP. The result is less a reunion than a confluence of three successful careers grown from the same soil. Gilmore brings his mystical tenor voice and songwriting mix of acoustic folk, country, and blues; Ely adds his array of honky-tonk, rockabilly, and Western swing styles; and Hancock provides poetic images and detailed stories with his Dylanesque voice.

In contrast to their debut, on which Gilmore sang all the leads, the new songs were written as a trio, with vocals shared among the principals. Steve Wesson's ghostly musical saw, so prominent on the debut, has been reduced to a more subliminal presence, and the mood is less plaintive and individualistic. The resulting collective voice reflects the lives of friends who've progressed from the youthful discovery of college housemates to the shared realities of adults. The revelation of their first outing has been replaced here by rediscovery, proving itself a most fitting companion.

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