Nobody in this band has anything left to prove. Individually Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock have established their reputations so deeply in their home state that you can not talk about the Texas Music scene without mentioning them in the same breath. The collaboration of the three as The Flatlanders goes back about thirty years to their days living in Lubbock. By this point in time, what they have together is beyond collaboration. It is kinship. Indeed Hills and Valleys which will be released on March 31st by New West Records sounds as relaxed as a family reunion. In fact, I feel like it is as good as anything they have done in the past. I understand that is saying a lot, given their long history of recording together; but Hills and Valleys floored me.
The album opens with “Homeland Refugee” sung by Ely. It is an extremely powerful reflection on the current state of our country told, in typical Ely fashion, from the perspective of someone living in the thick of it. The album is not all serious though, in typical Flatlanders fashion, they can bring a smile to your face on songs like the Tex-Mex infused “No Way I’ll Never Need You.” Also, they have not forgotten how to rock the roadhouse. On “Just About Time” Ely sings as the band lays down house rockin’ crunchy guitar licks. As if great songwriting was not enough, the trio brought in ace producer Lloyd Maines to bring it all together. The album is not perfect. There are a couple of weaker tracks on the album, but the best songs on Hills and Valleys are truly great.
This review also appears on Twangville