Dom Flemons

REVIEW: Dom Flemons “Traveling Wildfire”


Dom Flemons — Traveling Wildfire

Calling oneself The American Songster (“since 2009,” his website helpfully adds) places one large heap of expectations on the shoulders of the man brave enough to adopt the moniker. But Dom Flemons doesn’t carry that nickname out of braggadocio – it’s because he’s put in the work. His explorations of both American roots music and generations of underreported Black life have revealed an artist who’s deeply interested in telling the stories we need to hear, as well as giving us a musician who can play, well, pretty much anything. Flemons’ new album, Traveling Wildfire, gives us a few stories about the man himself, one who’s confronting the reality that comes from an itinerant musician forced to stay home.

Before exploring all the “Serious” stuff, though, Flemons starts Traveling Wildfire with a love song, and it’s a good one. In “Slow Dance with You,” waltz-y and lifted with Matt Pynn’s pedal steel, Flemons writes of not only the wooing, but the wistful early morning after – “I see the sun’s coming up/And you’re lovely wrapped in dawn” (a killer line that I’ll be stealing and claiming as my own upon some similar sleepy sunrise). Love less hopeful is found in “If You Truly Love Me.” Teased out by Flemons’ harmonica line, the singer finds himself resisting the urge – “My hands are tied/From knocking on your door/Though I can see you clearly/Through the open window pane” – but ultimately failing, always failing, to stop loving her today.

Traveling Wildfire is informally sectioned in different themes, and Flemons follows up the trio of love songs with a look at the unsettled nature of life. The title track, with Flemons’ eerie guitar playing and Marc Orrell’s haunting pump organ, was inspired by encounters with natural disasters (not to mention a globe-stopping pandemic) while the singer tried to follow the slimmest strand of hope – “The dark moon is beaming/Like a flicker of candlelight.” “It’s Cold Inside ” was penned after a debilitating 2014 on-stage injury and shelved until Flemons found deeper meaning in the song. Pump organ and bells surround the bone-chilling notion of abandoning all of that hope – “Did you ever have a dream that you thought would never die/Did you know that it would haunt you when you put a bullet between its eyes?”

Flemons’ attention to songcraft (his detailed liner notes alone are written with more care than your average roomful of Nashville songwriters put into most albums) extends to the works of the writers that he covers on Traveling Wildfire. “We Are Almost Down to the Shore,” with pump organ and lovely harmonies from Lashon Halley, honors the legacy of the deeply complicated, blind songwriter (and convicted killer) Jimmy Strothers. “Nobody Wrote it Down,” originally penned five years ago with Carl Gustafson and Billy Branch, honors the infinite accomplishments of Black Americans that have been lost to recorded history. And the little-known (and never properly released) gem from Bob Dylan, “Guess I’m Doing Fine,” dovetails with where Flemons finds himself post-pandemic. Sparked by a ripper of a fiddle line from Sam Bush, Flemons identifies with the 1964 version of Dylan – “I ain’t never had much money/But I still get around somehow.” With true American Songsters like Flemons (and Dylan), roots music is also doing fine.

Song I Can’t Wait to Hear Live: “Saddle It Around” – Flemons’ rendition of the Black cowboy song (originally penned by Gary Davis and put through endless permutations since) features some of the most fun instrumentation on the record – six-string banjo, rhythm bones and marching bass drum – all provided by Flemons. The man really can do anything.

Traveling Wildfire was produced by Ted Hutt, engineered by Ryan Mall, mixed by Hutt and Mall and mastered by Dave Cooley. All original songs written by Dominique Flemons, with co-writing credits going to Carl Gustafson, Billy Branch and Natalie Litza. Additional musicians on the album include Hutt (guitar, electric bass), David Hidalgo (drums), Marc Orrell (pump organ, bells, bouzouki), Matt Pynn (pedal steel), Sam Bush (fiddle), James Fearnley (piano accordion) and Lashon Halley (harmony and background vocals),

Go here to order Traveling Wildfire (out March 24):

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Enjoy our previous coverage here: REVIEW: Dom Flemons “Prospect Hill – The American Songster Omnibus” is Rich Blend of Americana Old-Time Music


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