Dom Flemons. Prospect Hill.
2014. Music Maker Relief Foundation.
According to American songster Dom Flemons, 2014 was the Year of the Folk Singer. An optimistic notion, to be sure, what with the unprecedented hegemony of rootsless indie music on the national mainstream in 2014, but take a look at the year he had and you can’t help but agree. His new album was listed as one of NPR’s Top 10 Folk Albums, was covered by USAToday, NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross and Weekend Edition, Wall St Journal, Oxford America, The Huffington Post, Sing Out!, and a host of other major publications, and he opened tours with Old Crow Medicine Show and Pokey Lafarge. All this acclaim is well deserved, and centers on the fact that Dom’s a key voice for early American roots music in a new century. He’s the perfect epitome of a modern “songster,” a term developed originally to describe African-American artists from the 78rpm era who had a wide-ranging repertoire that included everything from hillbilly ballads to country blues and broadway hits. On Prospect Hill, Flemons flexes his muscles as a deeply passionate student of American roots music and it is an impressive flex! Few artists on the roots scene right now can boast this kind of diversity in their repertoire, nor can many of these artists boast that they can write songs that fit perfectly into the tradition. Here, Tohono O’odham fiddle tunes from Flemons’ home state of Arizona rub shoulders with the catch-all music of the Nashville Stringband, the back-alley hokum of Georgia Tom Dorsey (later the father of modern gospel music), and the lovely mystery of original songster Frank Stokes. Flemons’ original songs more than hold up against the trad covers, from the Chicago blues of “I Can’t Do It Anymore” to the soft folk of “Too Long I’ve Been Gone” about life on the road. Shouts to “Have I Stayed Away Too Long” which might have the most ridiculously fun saxophone line since Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop”. Jeez, all this is without mentioning the guests on this album. Blues genius Guy Davis pulls heavy duty, really fleshing out the songs with Flemons as do Northwest duo Ben Hunter & Joe Seamons. Honestly, everything about this album is perfect. And ending with a Gus Cannon song like “My Money Never Runs Out?” Genius. Here’s hoping Flemons’ money doesn’t run out anytime soon so we can keep expecting amazing albums like this from him in the future!
By Devon leger