REVIEW: Dom Flemons’ “Prospect Hill – The American Songster Omnibus” is Rich Blend of Americana Old-Time Music

Reviews

Phoenix, Arizona’s Dom Flemons, a multi-instrumentalist vocalist & writer — is a unique musical personality. Part Leon Redbone, part Keb’ Mo & part Dom Flemons himself. Among his talents is a rich blend of Americana old-time music, Piedmont blues (like Blind Willie McTell), & neotraditional country (C&W – George Jones).

Known as the “American Songster,” he’s steeped in American folklore, ballads & traditional tunes that span more than a century of music. The 37-year old Grammy Award winner (with the Carolina Chocolate Drops) releases his 7th solo LP Feb. 28th — Prospect Hill – The American Songster Omnibus (Omnivore Recordings). A 2 CD set in 3-parts — 35 tracks produced by Dom with 12 previously unreleased or alternate tracks.

What’s intriguing about the CD: It appears the singer was photographed in sepia by an early 20th Century tintype studio camera & the songs – as if recorded in the ’30s. Without the scratchy sound. It reeks of authenticity.

The reissue Prospect Hill (14 tracks) is mindful of the early Taj Mahal. Spare instrumentation rich in tradition. Dom mirrors the perfection starting with the early New Orleans jazz tint of “’Til The Seas Run Dry.” Hot clarinet, a pluck of banjo & vintage vocals with vigor — all old…but it’s good old.

“Polly Put the Kettle On,” an original, is a sing-along jug band tune driven by fiddle & harmonica. Not all will appreciate the old-fashioned charm, but Dom creates a world of toe tapping songs that make many happy. What is appreciated is the superb discipline of the musicians. The classic 1943 tune “Have I Stayed Too Long,” leads into the whine of a harmonica that opens the modern interpretation of “Georgia Drumbeat.”

“I Can’t Do It Anymore,” has Keb’ Mo blues energy. The late fiddle-banjo musician John Hartford would’ve loved these songs. However, Dom is careful not to descend into novelty. He keeps it authentic which is not easy, as depicted on “It’s a Good Thing.” Then, he slips into an early exaggerated John Hartford vocal style (“Bye, Bye” or “Boogie”) with a fiery flute played over primal drums on “Grotto Beat.” Quite cool.

More contemporary is “Hot Chicken,” an energetic, well-sung jug band tune. John Sebastian or The Fifth Avenue Band would’ve covered.

Musicians: Dom (acoustic guitar, banjo, quills, cane fife, electric guitar, harmonica, rhythm bones, percussion, jug, & probably a colander). Joined by Guy Davis (guitars, harmonica, banjo, snare), Ben Hunter (fiddle, bass drum), Joe Seamons, Pura Fe Crescioni, & Jason Richmond (backup vocals), Keith Ganz (guitars, banjo), Ron Brendle (upright bass), Kobie Watkins (drums), & Brian Horton (clarinet, saxophones). For completists, the CD insert is excellently detailed.

CD 2 – Parts 2 & 3: What Goes Over & The Drum Major Instinct – opens with 9 tunes (some alternatives). Dom’s voice is effectively vintage. The late Charlie Poole’s tune “Milwaukee Blues,” is best. Rhythmic & engaging. Dom’s virtuosity & diversification holds together with authority. No fat, no gristle. Lean & tasty.

A Ry Cooder type vocal & spirited harmonica dominates “Clock on the Wall.” The alternate is instrumental & it bristles. “Keep on Truckin’” is Leon Redbone in tradition, but not with his whimsically drenched 20s Vaudeville vocal. Dom lacks that mainstream entertainment factor. But he’s a proficient musician & shouldn’t need a gimmick.

Most percussive & compelling is “Going Backwards Up the Mountain.” It suggests Burundi drummers, & that would’ve been great — but falls short.

Part 3 has alt-instrumentals. “Wingtips” intro leans percussive & the tunes that follow are in a well-recorded demo stage. Good ideas but just ideas. It’s a bonus but hardly necessary. Only of interest to purists. The final track is an acoustic guitar beauty – “Blue Butterfly.”

The double CD is available here: https://omnivorerecordings.com/shop/prospect-hill/

Website: https://theamericansongster.com/

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