The Flatlanders, 'Hills and Valleys' (New West)

Critical Mass
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by Jon Young

Grizzled Texans Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, and Butch Hancock originally teamed up in the '70s, then opted for solo careers. Hills and Valleys, their third studio album since reuniting in the late '90s, holds zero surprises -- mixing Tex-Mex bounce, outlaw twang, and folkie sincerity -- but it feels utterly right, like your favorite greasy meal at the local diner. Mining poetry from the everyday, "Free the Wind" and "Love's Own Chains" offer homespun observations on affairs of the heart. And the stomping "Just About Time" provides an excellent excuse for causing a minor disturbance.

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