Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Flatlanders - More a Legend Than a Band

More a Legend Than a Band is at least a bit of an ironic title for this compilation of 1972 Flatlanders recordings; certainly to most people, the Texas group is most known for singer / guitarist Jimmie Dale Gilmore's turn as the pacifist Smokey in The Coen Brothers' The Big Lebowski. In outlaw country-rock circles, The Flatlanders have taken on near-mythical status, both for the tracks that have leaked out over the years and for the success of Gilmore's solo work and that of bandmates Joe Ely and Butch Hancock.

More a Legend isn't a proper album but a series of unreleased songs that were intended for release as album called All American Music, until demo track "Dallas" flopped commercially and the record company pulled the plug.  That tune, which kicks off the record, features both the band's strengths and the likely reasons they never took off in the mainstream.  The song is catchy as hell, and features Gilmore's twang backed by acoustic guitar, harmonica, and a musical saw.  But Gilmore's twang isn't for everybody, and while the musical saw sounds terrific on "Dallas," it's not used as effectively elsewhere on the album.  An example is "One Day At a Time," where it adds a discordant comic tinge to a pretty dirge-y tune.

The Flatlanders straddle the fine line between having a distinctive sound and having each song sound the same.  Part of that is the composition of the group; Ely and Hancock later become formidable singer-songwriters in their rights, but More a Legend is Gilmore's show.  The sound is very polished but not over-produced; each song is a tight country tune, ranging from "Rose From the Mountain," the shortest track at 2:03, to the the bouncy Jole Blon, the longest track at a still-not-very-long 3:30.  Any instrumental breaks are brief and just serve to augment the songs.  This isn't the most diverse set of songs ever, but at 35 minutes it doesn't wear out its welcome.  If you're not into country, skip this album, but if you enjoy some twang, More a Legend Than a Band is a good listen.

The Flatlanders official site

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