Butch Hancock portrait A stalwart of the Texas indie scene, Butch Hancock is perhaps best known for his work with Joe Ely and Jimmie Dale Gilmore in the Americana "supergroup," The Flatlanders. In the early 1970s, the trio tried their luck in Nashville, fizzled out, came home, went their separate ways and became fixtures on the booming texas indie scene of the 1970s and '80s. Hancock started his own indie label, and has reuinited with his Flatlander brethren a time or two, to the delight of fans. Here's a quick look at his work...


The Flatlanders "More A Legend Than A Band" (Rounder, 1990)
To tell you the honest truth, I never really cared all that much for this outfit, or at least this particular album, although there are those who praise it to the stars. Joe Ely, I agree, was a stellar talent, and over the years I've grown fond of Jimmie Dale Gilmore, although less so with Butch Hancock. Nevertheless, here they all are, way back in their youth, as a pioneering Texas alt-country ensemble whose early-1970s recordings preceeded the entire Austin-outlaw scene by a good several years. Some of the songs on here turned up later on various solo albums. This album ain't bad, but it never made my boat float of my toes curl.

The Flatlanders "Live At The Knite: June 8th, 1972" (New West, 2004)
What an amazing document of this band, live in action during its faint, glimmering, short-lived first incarnation. These recordings were apparently made in front of an audience of less than a dozen people, the sum total of the patrons of a teensy Texas watering hole known as the Knite... You'd never know it was a near-empty room, though, from the intensity with which the threesome tackled each and every song. They were clearly a powerful, powerfully earnest band, covering oldies and adding new tunes to the hard country canon... These soundcheck recordings are remarkable for a variety of reasons... First off, songwriter Butch Hancock doesn't sing at all, while Jimmie Dale Gilmore was the main vocalist, surprising in itself, but made even more remarkable when you hear Joe Ely's vocals cut through on a couple of tunes -- Ely, the growling, grizzled road-warrior-to-be, singing with a high, youthful, almost nervous voice, singing beautifully, with a sincerity that matched the music. Although the studio album that came out of this group's first year was a bit on the reserved side, these live recordings are passionate and compelling: this is what a real 'billy band sounded like, back in the earliest days of the "outlaw" era. And it was mighty fine. Highly recommended!

Butch Hancock "West Texas Waltzes And Dust-Blown Tractor Tunes" (Rainlight, 1978)

Butch Hancock "The Wind's Dominion" (Rainlight, 1979)

Butch Hancock "Diamond Hill" (Rainlight, 1980)

Butch Hancock "1981: A Spare Odyssey" (Rainlight, 1981)

Butch Hancock "Firewater Seeks Its Own Level" (Rainlight, 1981)

Butch Hancock & Marce LaCouture "Yella Rose" (Rainlight, 1985)

Butch Hancock "Split & Slide II" (1986)
A cassette-only album...

Butch Hancock & Marce LaCouture "Cause Of The Cactus" (1987)
Another cassette-only release...

Butch Hancock "Own & Own" (Demon, 1989)

Butch Hancock "No Two Alike" (1990)
A multi-album, cassette-only release...

Butch Hancock & Jimmie Dale Gilmore "Two Roads: Live In Australia" (Caroline, 1990)
Two old Texas alt-y troubadours trade off tunes and croon together on a few others, in a nice, warm, no-nonsense, down-to-earth live acoustic performance. Unpretentious and appealling: it's likely that you'll be as charmed by this album as the original audiences were, back in Sydney and Melbourne.

Butch Hancock "Own The Way Over Here" (Sugar Hill, 1993)
Along with his pals Joe Ely and Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Butch Hancock was one of the short-lived and much-fabled Flatlanders; after the breakup in the early '70s, he carried the banner of the grizzled, gruff road poet... This CD gathers some of the best material from various hard-to-find albums on the indie Rainlight label. To be honest, I've never been that big a Butch Hancock fan, but this disc does a good job highlighting his strengths and touches lightly on his weaknesses... In general, the more acoustic and less rockin', the better. But if you want to check his solo career out, this is an ideal starting point.

Butch Hancock "Eats Away The Night" (Sugar Hill, 1994)

Butch Hancock/Various Artists "SONGS FROM CHIPPY" (Hollywood, 1994)
An interesting, often compelling compilation album that was also the soundtrack for a theatre piece starring Jo Harvey Allen, and Jo Carol Pierce... Included on the ride are Joe Ely, Terry Allen, Butch Hancock, Robert Earl Keen, Wayne Hancock, who I believe made his debut on this album... Definitely worth checking out.

Butch Hancock "You Coulda Walked Around The World" (Rainlight, 1997)

The Flatlanders "Now Again" (New West, 2002)
An amazing reunion album! Personally, I think this is much, much better than their old stuff. Obviously, I'm a big fan of the old Joe Ely records, but the original Flatlanders album has always struck me as a bit dull and monotonous. Sure, it's legendary and all that, but the songs that Gilmore wrote really came to life later... when Ely recorded them on his classic MCA albums. As for this new record, it's much more playful and melodically rich, and is packed with plenty of catchy songs, memorable choruses and well-crafted melodic hooks. Even I -- someone who has long been singularly unimpressed by this band -- can groove along to it, and be taken in by the relaxed, masterful confidence these guys bring out in each other. Besides, it's better than anything these three had done solo for the last few years. I'd recommend it to anyone who wants to find out what the fuss was about this alt.country supergroup.

The Flatlanders "Wheels Of Fortune" (New West, 2004)
Some songs old, others new... The second album from the revitalized Flatlanders trio has less of a dynamic, organic feel to it, seeming more a series of songs than an exploration of a newly-renewed creative partnership. Ely, Gilmore and Hancock still bring a wealth of roots music road warrior experience to bear, but the songs seem disconnected from each other, and too tightly crafted in parts, more of a carefully crafted studio creation than a joyful old-timer jam. I really liked the last record, and while this one may grow on me, for the moment I'm a little nonplussed.

Butch Hancock "War And Peace" (Two Roads, 2007)

The Flatlanders "Hills And Valleys" (New West, 2009)
(Produced by Lloyd Maines)

Nice stuff from these three old, grizzled pals. This album begins on a strongly political note, with several tunes designed to shake off the hangover of the George Dubya Bush years, about hard times, economic dislocation, Hurricane Katrina, and the much-reviled billion-dollar "wall" along the US-Mexico border. Of these songs, "Borderless Love" is perhaps the best, revealing an emotional openness that still allows for both sincere shock and gooey, love-your-neighbors altruism. This humanist streak runs throughout the album, which is a sly and strident proclamation in favor of people and emotion over pragmatism and hard-heartedness. The Flatlanders pick up the weatherbeaten, dust-blown flag of the semi-redneck hippie faction of what was once called "the counterculture," and make a pretty strong case for their beliefs. As the house of cards that was our economy falls down around our collective heads, these mellow folkie appeals to common sense and compassion sound a whole helluva lot better than anything you'll hear on the cable news channels. Admittedly, there is an air of forced profundity that has to be dealt with -- towards the end of the album, almost every couplet of the lyrics strains to deftly deliver some poetic insight or wry life lesson -- but even so, I'm a huge Jimmie Dale Gilmore fan and any chance I get to hear him sing, I'm happy. Indeed, this is probably one of the strongest, most cohesive Flatlanders albums, and it's definitely a record that came out at exactly the right time to be heard by exactly the right people. Check it out.


Hick Music Index

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