Treasure of Love
When Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock — collectively, The Flatlanders — laid down bare-bones versions of these songs over the past decade or so, they thought they were doing it just for pleasure.
The Texas singer-songwriters, the story goes, weren’t consciously trying to make another album.
But eventually a mass of cover tunes sprinkled with a few original compositions coalesced into a stunning assemblage, not unlike one of O. Henry’s short-story collections.
“These 15 songs were leftovers from various sessions over the span of several years,” producer/musician/compadre Lloyd Maines told Good New Music via email, “so making them all sound cohesive was a bit challenging, but fun.”
Aside from the septuagenarians’ still-fine vocals and superb choice of outside material, this set is a guitar-lover’s dream: There are more acoustic guitars than one could shake a pick at, complementing a jackpot of electric guitars as well as a smorgasbord of stringed instruments played with a slide, all interwoven into any given track. And the album’s absence of keyboards leaves plenty of breathing room for all that awesome strumming and sliding.
Robbie Gjersoe, the Flatlanders’ longtime guitar slinger, has the lion’s share of electric parts. Maines concentrates on what he plays best — pedal steel and related instruments.
“Robbie plays dobro on ‘Long Time Gone,’ Maines divulged. “Everything else that slides is me: pedal steel, lap steel, dobro and acoustic slide.”
Maines also mixed the album, along with Pat Manske, at The Zone outside Dripping Springs, Texas.
“All the Flats’ vocals were already recorded,” Manske explained to GNM in an email. “Lloyd and I took the tracks from Joe last year and cleaned them up, added Lloyd’s parts (guitar, steel, etc.) and I played drums on some of them here at The Zone studio.”
Manske added that while the additional overdubs were tracked at The Zone, “Lloyd also overdubbed a lot of his parts at his home studio in Austin.”
The album begins by pulling out of the station with Ely singing a Hancock composition, “Moanin’ of the Midnight Train.” And like Ely’s 1979 cover of Hancock’s “Boxcars,” it features Maines’ wickedly fuzzed-out pedal steel emulating a freight train’s air horn.
Gilmore’s delightfully nasal, twangy tenor is at the fore on Leon Russell’s “She Smiles Like a River.” The original, on 1972’s “Leon Russell and the Shelter People,” featured some easy-rolling guitar work akin to an electric sitar. Here, acoustic guitar and pedal steel join forces to reveal the country core of the tune.
Hancock — ever the folkie of the group — delivers a heartfelt interpretation of Mickey Newbury’s “Mobile Blue,” sourced from “ ’Frisco Mabel Joy” (1971). A nice touch is Maines’ use of multiple slide instruments played in unison, creating harmonics of an almost otherworldly beauty.
Also rising to the top are “The Ballad of Honest Sam” (Paul Siebel cover; Gilmore vocals), “Mama Does the Kangaroo” (Hancock original/vocals) and “Ramblin’ Man” (Hancock original; Ely vocals).
The final track features alternating lead vocals from all three singers on the country-blues standard “Sittin’ on Top of the World.” Gjersoe’s rip-roaring electric guitar riffs twang away, atop Maines’ tastefully understated dobro. It’s a fitting way for the album to ride off into the sunset.
1. Moanin’ Of The Midnight Train
2. Long Time Gone
3. Snowin’ On Raton
4. She Smiles Like A River
5. Love Please Come Home
6. Give My Love To Rose
7. Treasure Of Love
8. Satin Shoes
9. The Ballad Of Honest Sam
10. Mama Does The Kangaroo
11. She Belongs To Me
12. I Don’t Blame You
13. Mobile Blue
14. Ramblin’ Man
15. Sittin’ On Top Of The World
Total time: 50:43