Love From Lubbock: The Texas City Shines in These Two Albums

An alt-country crew from the early 1970s showcases later solo careers.

Album Reviews

Joe Ely
Full Circle: The Lubbock Tapes
Rack ‘Em

Dave Alvin and Jimmie Dale Gilmore
Downey to Lubbock
Yep Roc

Back in the early 70s, The Flatlanders were alt-country before the term existed, offering a rougher, dustier alternative to the polished entertainment emanating from Nashville at the time. The trio didn’t catch on, but Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, and Butch Hancock all went on fruitful solo careers as performers and writers.

“The Lubbock Tapes” collects two batches of remarkably clean-sounding demos, the first from ’74, three years before Ely’s major-label debut, and the second from ’78, as he was preparing to cut his third longplayer. Though his identity as a passionate, forthright troubadour was fully formed from the start, these 15 tracks offer a fascinating chronicle of Ely’s creative evolution, as he expanded his stylistic repertoire by adding driving rock and roll to the weary ballads and honky-tonk shuffles. Ely would find kindred spirits in The Clash, who saluted him in their lyrics and recruited him to sing background in the studio.

Lubbock, the Texas city where Ely and Gilmore (as well as rock and roll great Buddy Holly) were raised, also gets name-checked in the title of Gilmore’s recent collaboration with Dave Alvin, the songwriter and guitarist for California’s rollicking Blasters back in their ’80s heyday. This amiable session feels like a visit with old friends as they swap songs just for the fun of it, touching on blues (“Stealin’, Stealin'”), folk (“Deportee—Plane Wreck at Los Gatos”), R&B (“Lawdy Miss Clawdy”), and gospel-fired rock (“Walk On”). Gilmore’s voice has aged beautifully. Once sweet and angelic, he now suggests a smoother Willie Nelson. Though a less-imposing singer, the scruffier Alvin has become a nicely expressive one—and can still uncork a scorching guitar solo when the occasion demands.