If the past year has taught us anything at all it’s that we can always expect the unexpected to happen. For fans of the legendary Texas trio The Flatlanders, this year will bring a special treat in the form of a highly anticipated new album.
Treasure of Love, due out on July 9 via Thirty Tigers will be the first album in 12 years for the long running and mysterious trio made up of Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock. It will be available for streaming and on vinyl and CD where it will include personal photographs of the band's long career.
The Flatlanders were famously dubbed by one of Gilmore’s friends as “more of a legend than a band”, a name used for their 1990 album. The three met as young kids in the flat land of Lubbock, Texas where their fan base grew in the United States and abroad, much to the surprise of the three as their first album was barely available on 8-track and only distributed to a small number of truck stops.
Their albums as a band, and in their individual solo careers, have been widely celebrated elevating the three artists to cult status but because they were only officially together from 1972 until 1973, their albums have been few and far between.
“Really The Flatlanders was based on friendship before music,” says Gilmore. “It never was meant to be a commercial entity, we probably would have loved it if it was one, but we didn’t come together for that reason. We came together because we were fans of each other and then we just became best friends.”
Treasure of Love is made up mainly of thoughtfully selected cover songs from Bob Dylan, Townes Van Zandt and Leon Russel to name a few. The album captures the origins of the unexplained Texas magic that came out of Lubbock and showcases how the band makes these songs their own with their individual trademark vocal styles and harmonies.
Though made up of tracks recorded intermittently from 2015 to 2018, Treasure of Love takes listeners back in time to witness a snapshot of the beginning their musical influences and commonalities ending with the Country Blues standard “Sittin’ On Top Of The World”, a song frequently performed by the band and whose video is like a moving scrapbook documenting the bands long career and friendship.
“All of them were songs that were in our repertoire because we loved them a long time ago. There were ones that we just hoped someday to have a good recording down. They were originally recorded more as a keepsake for us but then as it turns out, it became an actual recording project.”
Gilmore describes how throughout the years as the band got together to work on projects they would bounce old song titles off of one another while the tape rolled and just jam. During their last tour as a trio in 2019, the band decided that it was time to sit down and record a new album.
Getting together has never been without its challenges for the band, as each member stays busy with their own touring schedules, but the pandemic only made it harder for the three to physically get together.
Ely took the downtime as an opportunity to go through some of the countless hours of recordings he has and sent his band mates the tracks which would become Treasure of Love. When all three agreed on moving forward, they reached out to honorary Flatlander and fellow Lubbock legend Lloyd Maines.
“These recordings were like diamonds in the rough, with the emphasis on rough,” laughs Gilmore humbly. “But after Lloyd did what he did to it, it really turned it into something that's a pleasure to listen to. It’s not exactly the way The Flatlanders would have sounded, especially in the old days, but it’s pretty representative of what we were way back then”
“Of course I said yes because I've worked with Joe and those guys for so long it was kind of a given that I was going to do it,” says Maines who remains busy as a highly sought after producer and pedal steel player. Maines has been an integral part of the unexpected artistic movement birthed out of Lubbock including producing Terry Allen's albums and playing in The Ely Band for many years.
“I got the demos and realized that their vocals were killer. That's the one thing that I didn't want to touch because their vocals were spot on in every song.” Maines took the tracks back into the studio and added instrumentation, sending each track back for approval to Ely and his wife Sharon, who co-produced the album, before moving on to the next.
“It was a fairly smooth process I thought. They were in no hurry so I was able to take my time with it and really try to make it right. I really enjoyed doing it,” says Maines of the modern day ability to complete projects without being physically together.
The fourteen track album not only takes fans back to The Flatlander’s roots, but also features three original tracks. The album kicks off with a bang as Ely howls and growls the romantic “Moanin’ Of The Midnight Train” written by Hancock.
Treasure of Love successfully captures the bands love of music and celebration of the roots of their influences, despite all three members coming from different backgrounds. Time took no toll on their youthful joy which continues to resonate in each note of these songs, whether they wrote them or not.
The Flatlanders have always been known for each bringing to the table their own influences with Gilmore coming from country roots, Hancock heavy in the singer songwriter and poet genre and Ely as the more rock and roll Flatlander who famously clicked with Joe Strummer of The Clash and along with Maines opened up for the British rockers in the United States and Europe.
“That attitude towards the music is something that brought Butch, Joe and I together to begin with because we all liked the music but we also liked knowing about the background. We taught each other a lot about the different things we knew happened, different areas that we had individually looked into before we were hanging out together a lot. We all three had an extensive repertoire already and then we all learned each other's whole basket of tricks,” says Gilmore.
Though Gilmore says the band has no formal plans to tour yet, he hasn't ruled out the possibility as live music is ramping up it's return. In a true reflection of their cosmic connection, his last show before shutdown and first one back on stage since venues have reopened was with Hancock. Both men played Houston's Mucky Duck, a venue they hold dear to their hearts and for good reason.
"I think it's going to happen but it's not on the books yet so who knows what's going to happen. After this last year, who can predict anything," says Gilmore.
At a time when hardly anything is built to last, it is not only impressive that these four artists have remained active in their field but also their deep connection that continues to bind them to one another even after leaving Lubbock many years ago.
“When you've got both friendship and music in common, that's why we've been able to retain this relationship for such a long time,” says Gilmore.
“It’s serendipity,” says Maines. “It’s like we've known each other and have been friends for so long and just the fact that we got to do this in our later years, it's just icing on the cake. It felt really good doing this.”
Treasure of Love is available for streaming and purchase on CD and vinyl on Friday, July 9 via Thirty Tigers.
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