Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Joe Ely and Butch Hancock have been friends for almost 40 years, and members of that not-really-a-band, life-of-its-own musical entity known as The Flatlanders for nearly as long.
But when the trio decided to collaborate on songwriting for Hills And Valleys, the fourth in a rather elongated string of Flatlanders albums, they realized it wouldn't be easy. They'd done it before for one thing, first for the soundtrack to the 1998 film The Horse Whisperer, then for their "reunion" album, 2002's Now Again. So they already knew they'd be as likely to spend hours trading tales and laughing uproariously as they would trying to agree on a lyric.
But for Hills and Valleys, they not only managed to come up with eight eloquent joint efforts, they added Ely's "Love's Own Chains" and "There's Never Been," Hancock's "Thank God For The Road," one by Gilmore's son, Colin ("The Way We Are"), and, for good measure, their arrangement of Woody Guthrie's "Sowing on the Mountain." That one serves not only as an homage to one of their musical guideposts but, as Hancock notes, a representation of the album's general theme: "the ups and downs, emotionally, of peoples' lives these days."
But here they are, 37 years after they were prodded into recording together the first time, still collaborating--and still the best of friends. In his soft Texas drawl, Ely sums the philosophy behind their creativity: "We might as well write music and make songs up, because there's not anything that we'd rather be doing."