Hills and Valleys
Supergroups are best viewed with a healthy dose of skepticism. Nearly all, from Blind Faith to Little Village to the New York Yankees, are cynically conceived: They’re groups in name only; they reek of artifice. Yet the Flatlanders get a pass on such judgment. They were an actual band back in the early seventies, when their members—Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, and Butch Hancock—couldn’t get arrested (at least figuratively). They took thirty years to record the follow-up to their 1972 debut, Jimmie Dale and the Flatlanders, but now they’re releasing their fourth studio album, Hills and Valleys (New West). And give ’em credit—they could easily have gone into the studio, recycled their substantial songbooks, cashed their checks, and skedaddled back into solo-career semi-retirement. Instead they’re collaborating on big, socially conscious statements like “Homeland Refugee” and “After the Storm.” There’s next to nothing surprising here, but really, why should there be? The band’s wit remains sharp and its chemistry intact. This album sounds exactly like what it is—three lifelong friends, back to doing what they do best.