Dom Flemons does a time-traveling, globe-trotting tour on his latest release.
Prospect Hill: The American Songster Omnibus transports listeners from beats and banjo of 18th-century Africa to the American Deep South of the 19th. From there, it’s through New Orleans to the Delta and up the Mississippi River over to the South Side of Chicago to the New York City coffeehouses of the 1960s, before landing in L.A. hip-hop scene.
The journey is not sequential, nor is it routed in any particular order. But it is a must-take trip.
Consisting of Flemons’ 2014 solo LP Prospect Hill, his 2015 vinyl-only Record Store Day EP What Got Over and a previously unreleased collection of 12 instrumentals dubbed the Drum Major Instinct, American Songster Omnibus presents the former Carolina Chocolate Drop in a variety of guises as he plays guitars, banjo, bones, quills and a variety of other instruments as he’s backed by a full complement of artists to round out the many sounds – beats, Dixieland, blues, folk, bluegrass, country, jazz – the two-CD set comprises.
“Sugar Dance” springs forth from the African continent; “Polly Put the Kettle On” wafts from an Arkansas back porch; “‘Til the Seas Run Dry” is Bourbon Street in music; the blues call out from “Clock on the Wall;” one can imagine Bob Dylan singing “Too Long (I’ve Been Gone);” and “Grotto Beat” splits the difference between the actual and the urban jungle.
Like the music, the lyrics – on the tracks that have words – are throwbacks to a ribald time when jelly roll, ham bones, bowed legs and hot chicken made for better, more-colorful storytelling than more explicit descriptors of the modern sonic landscape.
A nom de musique such as the American Songster comes with a heavy weight few musicians could bear. Flemons carries it like a loose-fitting windbreaker.