Review: The Flatlanders Share a Long-Awaited Labor of Love

The Flatlanders/Treasure of Love/Thirty Tigers
Four out of Five Stars

Videos by American Songwriter

A reluctant supergroup of sorts, The Flatlanders definitely deserve whatever recognition they’ve been able to muster. Comprised of three musical legends from the Lone Star State —Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock, and lately, with storied pedal steel player and multi-instrumentalist Lloyd Maines in tow—they’ve managed to release only seven albums in tandem since first consolidating nearly 50 years ago, a fact that makes every new entry an event. That’s proven by the fact that the aptly-named Treasure of Love marks their first collaboration in a dozen years. 

That said, the new album isn’t any sort of drastic break from the trio’s usual MO. I’m just an ordinary man, Gilmore insists on their well-suited Leon Russell cover, “She Smiles Like a River.” So too, their homespun take on Tex Ritter’s “Long Time Gone” exudes the honesty and humility so inherent in what can only be labeled as an unassuming approach. The fact that all but a couple of the tracks on this generous fifteen song set are other people’s songs says something about their desire to submerge their own egos and keep true to their roots. Indeed, it’s all about inspiration. For example, “Give My Love to Rose” stays so true to the original that one would be hard pressed to distinguish between the Flatlander’s read and the Johnny Cash classic . The same could be said of their down-home designs of George Jones’ “Treasure of Love,” Gilmore’s warbly vocal notwithstanding. On the other hand, the original entries—Ely’s “Satin Shoes” and and Hancock’s “Ramblin’ Man”—fit seamlessly and assuredly with the standards they’ve selected. That’s no small accomplishment considering the array of writers sequenced in the set list—Bob Dylan, Paul Siebel, Earnest Tubb, Mickey Newbury, Tex Ritter, and Townes Van Zandt, among them.

Still, there’s something deliberately audacious about attempting to recycle well-worn standards like Dylan’s “She Belongs To Me” and particularly the oft-covered blues classic “Sittin’ on Top of the World.” Credit the trio with expressing the material with an aptitude and assurance that not only does due justice to the seminal versions, but also ensures that they fit their own template as well. The latter song in particular becomes a rabble rousing countrified stomper that distinguishes it from any familiarity factor one might otherwise expect.

Fans of outlaw types in general—Waylon, Willie and Johnny in particular—will find there’s common cause with the Flatlanders’ focus—that is, a rugged, enduring appreciation for essential Americana without the need to tag it as anything new, trendy or even timely. With Treasure of Love, The Flatlanders’ reverence for their roots stays true to its title.

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