Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz
om Flemons came out on the outdoor stage with humidity filling the air, introducing himself as "The American songster." He enunciated that meant he delved into varying styles of music.
But it almost sounds like Flemons was labeling himself as a hipster. That would have been understandable given his hat, suspenders, green-and-white shirt and gray pants. While Flemons fortunately didn't get egotistical and call himself a hipster, he might as well have. During his (too short) 63-minute set, Flemons delved into blues, country, jazzy sounds, gospel and probably a few more styles.
Flemons played about half of his upcoming new disc, "Prospect Hill," dropping July 22 via Music Maker Relief Foundation. There was the playful "Hot Chicken," based on an East Nashville restaurant to "Too Long I've Been Gone," a folkie sounding song about life on the road.
For those unfamiliar with Flemons, they never known that he was a longstanding member of the vaunted Carolina Chocolate Drops, which opt for more of a bluegrass and string band sound than Flemons ever showed on this night. Flemons, 31, never mentioned his former band. One suspects he wants to forge his own musical identity.
Fortunately, one thing that remains the same is an explanation of songs by both the Drops and Flemons. When doing covers, it's nice and often important to know just where a song came from.
In some cases, they came straight outta Flemons, such as "San Francisco Baby" and "Po' Black Sheep." Flemons identified Jim Reeves as the author of the country song "Have I Stayed Away Too Long?" Henry Rag Time Texas Thomas, who died 84 years ago, was the touchstone for "Charmin Betsy."
While Flemons did a chunk of the show solo, he also had a few capable backing band members in Ben Hunter on fiddle and Joe Seamons on acoustic guitar. Flemons filled the songs himself with banjo, harp and acoustic guitar. Plus his vocals, which were always mixed high.
Flemons was not afraid to expand his musical palette. He did not want to be pigeonholed either, which could be why he goes for the "American songster" label. In his case, the title wears well on his shoulders.