The Flatlanders — Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Joe Ely, and Butch Hancock — cut their first album for Shelby Singleton in 1972. After a single — Gilmore’s brilliant, ambivalent ode to "Dallas" — failed to make the charts, Singleton released the LP on eight-track only. Rounder rescued this secret masterpiece on CD in 1990 and set the record straight by putting it out as More a Legend Than a Band. Gilmore, Ely, and Hancock — except for the occasional reunion shows — have gone their separate ways, and each has had his moments. But the transcendent and soulful Now Again proves they need one another the way McCartney needed Lennon. Ely and Hancock help keep cosmic cowboy Gilmore from floating too far out into the æther; Hancock’s songs sound best when they’re sung by Ely; and Hancock and Gilmore keep Ely from getting stuck in a honky-tonk rut.
The opener, Utah Phillips’s "Going Away," is a polished gem of rural late-night wonderment that’s as down-to-earth as it is surreal, and it sets the album’s tone. Standouts include Hancock’s concise, witty "Julia" and trio compositions like "Down in the Light of the Melon Moon," which sounds as if it were being played with what fellow Texan Guy Clark once called "Picasso’s Mandolin." The pungent air of earthy eccentricity is intoxicating, especially on rollicking rollers like "I Thought the Wreck Was Over" and the swampy, stomping "Pay the Alligator. Let’s hope this is a new beginning for a trio who should never have parted ways.