More a Legend Than a Band, the title of the Flatlanders’ 1972 debut, speaks volumes about the band’s complicated history. For one thing, the three troubadours from Lubbock, Texas — Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Joe Ely and Butch Hancock — almost immediately went their separate ways after making the album for Sun Records in Nashville. Each of them eventually found success as a solo artist, which piqued interest in the work they’d done together so many years before, and prompted a reunion that’s been going strong since the late ’90s.
That legend gets burnished yet again with The Odessa Tapes — the long-thought-lost studio demos that bought the Flatlanders their original ticket to Nashville. Tracked one night in late 1971 in Odessa, Texas, these 14 songs are remarkable not only for how pristine they sound after 40 years, but for how thoroughly they capture the bluesy, dusty-road essence of the band. Gilmore’s relaxed Texas twang is front and center, with harmonies by Ely and Hancock ringing out on the quirky campfire koans “Bhagavan Decreed” and “Stars in My Life,” while the wistful “I Think Too Much of You” and the Gilmore-penned “Dallas” shimmer with folk-country romance. At a time when the “cosmic American roots” music of Gram Parsons was just beginning to blossom, the Flatlanders flew ahead of the curve with a style that was meditative, philosophical and unapologetically down-home.