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Dom Flemons (from the album Traveling Wildfire available on Smithsonian Folkways Records) (by Lee Zimmerman)
Dom Flemons has always been a musical archivist of sorts, an artist eager to dig deep into the firmament of the Black Folk tradition, and represent it in ways that find a fit within a contemporary context. In so doing, he’s incorporated elements of Bluegrass, Folk, and traditional tones under his guise as a one man minstrel. He’s reaped a Grammy and consistent praise for his efforts, and in the process, earned the nickname ‘The American Songster’ while becoming one of the most vital traditional troubadours plying his skills today.
Dom Flemons’ new album takes a slightly different tack, one that finds him plowing through tunes of his own while occasionally leaning into covers from some revered sources — the Reverend Gary Davis (“Saddle It Around”), Eric Andersen (“Song to JCB”), and Bob Dylan (the heretofore unreleased early offering “Guess I’m Doing Fine”). That said, most of these tracks maintain a consistent tone and tempo with only occasional variation in mood and mystique. “Slow Dance and “Dark Beauty” kick off the proceedings with a mild luster, while “Traveling Wildfire” and “It’s Cold Inside” tend to purvey some ominous intrigue.
‘Traveling Wildfire is not only a statement of my personal travel experiences, but also a metaphor for rebirth in the wake of destruction’ Flemons comments in the press materials accompanying the album. ‘It reminded me that the album is in its own way a statement about emerging from the depths of uncertainty to find a new relevance during this unprecedented moment in modern history. At the same time, the image of the traveling wildfire reminded me of how music and stories can travel from generation to generation bringing important lessons from the past into the present and the future’.
In that regard, the loping “Big Money Blues” offers a prescient look at the banking crisis that recently shook the money markets.
Those timely tales have, of course, always been a key component in Flemons’ musical mantra, and on a song like “Nobody Wrote It Down” he recounts the plight of the nation’s Black populace and how that legacy has been all ignored in the retelling of American history. Nevertheless, he manages to make an emphatic impression, courtesy of the amiable yet evocative archival arrangements conveyed by a backing band consisting of producer Ted Hutt contributing guitar and electric bass, Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo on drums, Marc Orrell on pump organ and bells, and Matt Pynn on pedal steel, along with cameos from Sam Bush and The Pogues’ James Fearnley. Dom Flemons himself excels as always as the multitasker he is by taking responsibility for vocals, acoustic guitar, banjo, drums, percussion, electric bass, electric guitar, and quills.
The plucky instrumentals “Songster Revival” and “Rabbit Foot Rag” are an ideal case in point.
An excellent example of modern Folk music shared in a contemporary context, Traveling Wildfire is the latest in a string of accomplishments Dom Flemons has purveyed since early on. And as always, it burns with passion and proclivity. (by Lee Zimmerman
Listen and buy the music of Dom Flemons from AMAZON
For more information head on over to the Dom Flemons website
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