The Flatlanders came out of west Texas in the early '70s with the raw talent and strong musical viewpoint to have possibly been a revolutionary force in country music. But the group's folk- and blues-accented style was so far from what pop-conscious Nashville music powers wanted that the group's debut album was only released on eight-track tape, which was already a largely discarded format.
Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock went on to become cult heroes on their own. That first acoustic album was reissued under the title "More a Legend Than a Band" by Rounder Records in 1990, and fans of the three singer-songwriters have longed wistfully for a reunion effort.
"New Again" (in stores Tuesday) is that reunion, and if some generic tunes keep it from being the consistent knockout of our dreams, the highlights will likely top almost anything we'll hear out of Nashville this year. Ely is a honky-tonk rocker, and he is so much at home on the spirited "I Thought the Wreck Was Over" that you can see why his admirers stretch from Willie Nelson to Keith Richards. Hancock is the introspective balladeer, and he is most effective on "Yesterday Was Judgment Day."
Gilmore sings in such an ethereal, otherworldly manner at times that he comes across as a sort of cosmic cowboy. In "My Wildest Dreams Grow Wilder Every Day," he asserts the restless independence and philosophical questioning that link the three artists' thematic vision: "I wake up in the morning, I go to sleep at night/Somewhere in between the two, I swear I'll get it right."