The fact that Texas music titans Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock — on their first go-round as The Flatlanders in 1972 — were completely rejected by the country music establishment is surprising in retrospect but, ultimately, poetic. That each went on to have formidable solo careers is a testament to their talent and determination. Add to this their diverse yet complimentary styles — Joe the street-wise rocker, Jimmie Dale the mystic with the classic country voice and Butch the cerebral folk singer — and you’ve got a story of one of the most extraordinary kinships in American musical history.
It took these Flatlanders a mere three decades to release the sequel to their legendary debut. So the swift arrival of the group’s latest New West album Wheels of Fortune — which comes hard on the heels of 2002’s widely acclaimed Now Again — is a delightful and very welcome surprise. The fourteen songs that make up Wheels Of Fortune are absolute wonders of songcraft, sung by three of the most authentic voices in music today.
Joe, Jimmie and Butch initially reunited as The Flatlanders in 1998 to do a one-off recording, at the behest of Robert Redford’s people, for the soundtrack of The Horse Whisperer. It was so much fun, the trio regrouped and cut an entire album. The result, Now Again, was unanimously received as a triumph. Mojo magazine dubbed them a “country Beatles.” Rolling Stone gave it 3 and 1/2 stars. The Washington Post said, “Given the jaw-dropping quality of the disc, three decades almost seems a reasonable wait.” Billboard raved, “An event record that lives up to all expectations.” Now Again spent 17 weeks at #1 on the Americana charts and 21 weeks on the Billboard Country charts.