Dom Flemons - Traveling Wildfire
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Traveling Wildfire (Smithsonian Folkways, 2023)

Dom Flemons

Reviewed by John Lupton

Nearly two decades ago, Dom Flemons emerged on the folk and roots music scene as a member of the Carolina Chocolate Drops. The band highlighted the fact that the old time music of the Piedmont and Blue Ridge Mountains regions was not entirely lily white and featured substantial contributions from highly skilled black musicians such as fiddler Joe Thompson and his cousin, banjo player Odell Thompson. Flemons struck out on his own a decade or so ago, and though hampered for several years by an injury incurred on stage, reached a pinnacle in 2018 with the release (also on Smithsonian Folkways) of "Black Cowboys," a dive into the music and folklore of the African-American cowboys on the trail drives who somehow never made it into the movie Westerns and Zane Grey novels. The advent of the CD format, followed by downloads and streaming, have reduced the art of liner notes to almost an afterthought when releasing a new project, but Smithsonian fortunately remains true to their practice of more than a half century of including notes (50 pages in this instance) that give listeners wider and deeper insights into the artist and the music involved. Simply put, if you download or stream this release without any option for an electronic version of the notes, you're short changing yourself. There's a story behind each and every one of the 15 tracks, and Flemons is among the best storytellers around, as anyone who has seen him perform live can attest. You're better off buying the CD

While many may know him mainly for old time music and cowboys songs, Flemons reveals the true breadth and depth of his talents as a writer, singer and instrumentalist with this album. Each track stands well on its own.

"Slow Dance With You" and "If You Truly Love Me" would be at home alongside Ernest Tubb on jukeboxes across Texas in the '40s and '50s; "Big Money Blues" and "Saddle It Around" are reminders that "joyful blues" is not necessarily a contradiction in terms; the title track and "It's Cold Inside" find Flemons in a dark, but compelling place that evokes Townes Van Zandt; and while "Old Desert Road" doesn't easily fit any label. It's a wonderful song that gives Flemons room to demonstrate how flexible and dynamic his voice is.

The best way to experience Dom Flemons is, of course, live and on stage, but with the liner notes to peruse while listening, this comes pretty close.

CDs by Dom Flemons

Traveling Wildfire, 2023 Black Cowboys, 2018

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