Multi-instrumentalist and Grammy-winning songwriter Dom Flemons illuminates hidden American history in his music.

Dom Flemons, the Grammy-winning multi-instrumentalist, singer, and songwriter is a veritable musicologist of American folk music. I first heard Dom in his work with the Carolina Chocolate Drops back in my days working as the American Roots genre manager at the Grammys. Many of his solo albums since the days of that band have been retrospectives and reinterpretations of traditional old-time songs, this album is more of a contemporary folk album that speaks to the personal history we have all been living in the past few years.

The liner notes are a pleasure to read and music and history lovers will appreciate the detailed stories of traditional folk songs and the accompanying thoughtful and thought-provoking commentary. The following excerpts are from pages 3-13:

 "...this album is quite a departure for me because I decided not to present a historical concept record like my previous Smithsonian Folkways album, Dom Flemons Presents Black Cowboys (2018). Instead, I spent a lot of time combing through my record collection and personal archives to gather inspiration for the 15 songs on the album. Ever since I started performing professionally in 2005, I've mainly focused on presenting the lesser-known songs and stories of tradition-bearers who are at the foundation of American roots music. I've done this while playing an array of musical styles and vintage instruments rooted in tradition. This time around, I wanted to shift gears and bring my original songs into focus by highlighting stories written with my own pen. "
"I wrote the title track, "Traveling Wildfire," right around my birthday on August 30, 2021, while my family and I sat in a hotel room in Nashville being bombarded by Hurricane Ida. As we waited out the storm and watched simultaneous reports of flooding in New Orleans and massive wildfires in California, I began to write about the fragile uncertainty of living through the pandemic and the looming dangers of traveling down the road. With this cinematic audio experience describing the scene in front of me, I implore the listener to let the restless beat of the marching bass drum lead you into the depths of the quiet floating atmosphere of ''Traveling Wildfire.'"

I was able to catch Dom’s performance for the album when he played in Los Angeles. Here he plays Saddle It Around about one minute into the video, described in his liner notes on page 13:

"The second western song is "Saddle It Around," which comes from the repertoire of the legendary gospel songster Reverend Gary Davis. I first heard "Saddle It Around" when a friend contacted me to discuss on his radio program the history of the Black West. Afterwards, he provided me with a curated playlist of western songs that included a recording of "Saddle It Around" from the album, At Home and Church, 1962-1967, released in 2010 by Stefan Grossman's Guitar Workshop. The song first struck me because I found the picking pattern to be very different from any other Rev. Davis song I had ever heard. The fragmentary story also intrigued me: the journey of a Black cowboy traveling down the road only to be arrested for no crime, and for no reason at all for that matter."

This album was a real serendipitous full circle experience for me. In 2005, I started my career journey in the roots music field with a contract to do publicity for Smithsonian Folkways, specifically for the albums Para Todos Ustedes by Los Pleneros de la 21 and Rolas de Aztlán: Songs of the Chicano Movement. That led to working as the American Roots genre manager at The Grammys from 2007-2015, where I got the opportunity to do a deep dive into the contemporary landscape of roots music. That is why this blog was so focused on exploring history and older music. I left the Grammys in 2015, and started a craft business, then after a serious medical emergency, finding a new path as a collage artist. As fate would have it, here I am in 2023, sharing the collage artwork I was privileged to create in collaboration with and on behalf of Dom Flemons and his wife/creative partner, Vania Kinard.

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