The one and only Texas troubadour supergroup made an impressive statement in front of an enthusiastic Troubadour crowd that suggests they should make albums more than once every 30 years. Touring to support “Now Again” (New West), the Lubbock-bred team of Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock is the rare unit that can make midtempo country music exciting, due mainly to each member’s impeccable songwriting abilities, distinct harmonies and a stellar backing crew.
Show, which opened with the trio alternating vocals in a magnificent rendering of Ely’s “I Had My Hopes Up High,” put to shame their House of Blues show of a year ago. The new revue, which has another 30 dates on their summer docket including several as part of the Down From the Mountain tour, benefits from a seamless movement from one vocalist to the next and the freshness of the “Now Again” material.
Ely, whose music veers into rock ‘n’ roll more than that of the other two and yet is bridled on the new disc, busts out in concert by taking the lead on Hancock’s “West Texas Waltz” and “Dallas” and Terry Allen’s humorous ode to picking up a hitchhiking Jesus, “Gimme a Ride to Heaven Boy.”
Several of the new tracks stood out as decided winners: Hancock’s “Julia,” on which Gilmore lends a suave goose honk of a harmony; the romance and revenge of “I Thought the Wreck was Over”; and the honky-tonker “Pay the Alligator.” Any of the three would work well on radio, an area where the Flatlanders have not fared all that well. Talk jock Don Imus’ pledge of a $10,000 contribution to charity if any country radio station in a top 10 market adds the Flatlanders to their playlist could — and should — change that situation.