The Flatlanders’ Old Songs Are New Again

“We’re celebrating 40 years as the Flatlanders with a brand new tape that’s actually the oldest thing we ever recorded,” says Joe Ely, a third of the legendary Texas band with fellow songwriters Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock.

“Butch and Jimmie and me weren’t really a band. We just lived together in a house. One afternoon, we drove down to Odessa and went into this little concrete block room with no windows about sundown. We recorded all night and by sunrise did 14 songs. Then we drove back to Lubbock.”

They never looked back. Session faded from memory. Everyone moved forward.

End of story.

Well, sure seemed so.

Then a mysterious recording recently surfaced.

“A few years ago, my friend [celebrated instrumentalist and producer] Lloyd Maines called me up and said, ‘Joe, do you remember anything about these?’” Ely continues. “I said, ‘I remember recording some songs one night, but I don’t think that tape is any good. Couldn’t be. We just did a bunch of songs and never went back to listen to anything.’ Sure enough, it sounded like it was recorded yesterday in a great studio.”

The result today: The Flatlanders’ new The Odessa Tapes.

The band’s output from the long-lost, one-off, overnight session features the three budding young writers — Gilmore singing lead with Ely and Hancock on guitars and harmonies and occasional harmonica — running through early versions of the band’s future staples (“Dallas,” “Tonight I Think I’m Gonna Go Downtown”) and a few previously unreleased gems (“Shadow of the Moon,” “Number Sixteen”) with no net and zero production. Priceless. The vaults should be bronzed for keeping safe this early snapshot so overflowing with pride and promise. Fourteen songs, and there’s not a dull moment.

“Nothing fancy,” Ely says, “but it definitely showed where we were our first-time ever recording as the Flatlanders. In fact, we didn’t even have a name at that time.”