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July 29, 2017

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Long-lost Flatlanders work lives up to the years of hype

In the history of recorded music, few albums have been more aptly titled than the Flatlanders' "More a Legend Than a Band."

A loose collection of west Texas musicians who came together for a few Nashville sessions and a handful of scattered gigs in March 1972, the group could hardly be considered a "band" in the usual sense of the word.

But that didn't prevent the Flatlanders from achieving legendary status, to their own considerable surprise.

As the story goes, the Flatlanders' core trio of Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Joe Ely and Butch Hancock -- all singers and guitarists -- were longtime friends who roomed together in Lubbock, Texas, in 1972.

Under the supervision of producer Royce Clark and Plantation Records head Shelby Singleton, Gilmore, Eli and Hancock teamed with instrumentalists Tommy Hancock, Syl Rice, Tony Pearson and Steve Wesson for the Nashville sessions.

But the results of those efforts remained largely unheard for years. After releasing one promotional single by the group, Singleton pulled the plug on the Flatlanders, likely for financial reasons.

Somehow, the full-length album came out in limited quantities only in the 8-track format. And strangely, that hard-to-find recording gained a legion of admirers, many of them in Europe.

Then in 1990, Rounder Records finally reissued the long-lost work as "More a Legend Than a Band."

Considering all the expectations, you might assume the results would fall far short. But the 36-minute CD actually proves deserving of the hype, a charming glimpse at one of the alternative-country movement's earliest acts.

More "country" in the Willie Nelson or Johnny Cash tradition than the Garth Brooks or Toby Keith sense of the word, the Flatlanders' earthy music is rooted in the dust and dirt of their native Texas.

Gilmore's lead vocals are wonderfully wistful on forlorn tales such as "You've Never Seen Me Cry," "Jole Blon" and "Keeper of the Mountain."

Ely and Butch Hancock display a keen sense of vocal harmony throughout. And their less-famous bandmates provide a variety of old-school twangy backing sounds, from Tommy Hancock's fiddle to Pearson's mandolin to Wesson's musical saw.

It's country for people who might not realize they like country. Best of all, you no longer have to mortgage your home to afford a copy of this legendary piece of musical lore.

Artist: The Flatlanders.

Title: "More a Legend Than a Band."

Year of release: 1990 (originally recorded in 1972).

Tracklisting: "Dallas," "Tonight I'm Gonna Go Downtown," "You've Never Seen Me Cry," "She Had Everything," "Rose From the Fountain," "One Day at a Time," "Jole Blon," "Down in My Hometown," "Bhagavan Decreed," "The Heart You Left Behind," "Keeper of the Mountain," "Stars in My Life," "One Road More."