Thursday, May 15, 2014

Artist Feature: Dom Flemons

Dom Flemons performs at Drumstrong Rhythm &
Arts Festival outside of Charlotte, N.C. on Sunday,
May 18.
In the past decade few North Carolina acts have risen to the level of fame that Carolina Chocolate Drops have. Formed in 2005, the trio popularized old traditional songs and brought forth a new era of the rootsy folk aesthetic for the North Carolina music scene. In 2010 the group won a Grammy for their stellar album Genuine Negro Jig, but shortly after their newfound fame one of their founding members, Justin Robinson left the group to pursue solo endeavors. In the years since the group's Grammy award-winning album, the lineup has shifted in various directions, but their sound has mostly remained fairly static. Perhaps thats why multi-instrumentalist Dom Flemons has taken the Robinson route and left the group to release his own solo work as well. The split was announced late last year, and while founding member Rhiannon Giddens still remains in the group, a vast amount of attention is now pointed towards Flemons and his forthcoming solo debut Prospect Hill.

"Even though I founded the Carolina Chocolate Drops," Flemon says "there are parts of my musical personality that people have not seen because when you play in a group the group is always the main goal. It’s a team." Now that Flemons has struck out on his own though, fans can expect a marked departure from his work with the Chocolate Drops. Granted there will still be a heavy focus on traditionalism, but Prospect Hill finds Flemons trekking into new territory. "There's a little more jazz on this album," Flemons remarks. He goes on to add that he's even included a few of his own songs, something that fans never got the chance to see with his work in the Carolina Chocolate Drops.

"I always saw that the bigger cause for the group was to promote black string bands and show that piece of American history. In my own mind I never really wanted to write songs as much as let the history speak for itself because I personally find that to be a stronger artistic statement than anything I could just make up on my own." But now Flemons says he seeks to "find a balance" between interpretations on classic tunes and his own original material.

But when so much of your popularity comes from your roots driven debuts, that balance may be hard to find. However, Flemons seems to do so effortlessly. Throughout his nearly ten years in the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Flemons and his cohorts were re-contextualizing these lost gems of American music while incorporating their own contemporary spin on the tunes. Flemons speaks fondly of his musical upbringing, although he was born and raised in Arizona he seems deeply connected to the music of the south. Flemons mentions coming across older musicians who had been playing blues "for two and sometimes three times [his] age." These run-ins coupled with countless fiddling conventions and a deep appreciation for the narratives found within traditional music pushed Flemons towards this timeless genre.

"Although I love traditional music I am not stuck in a time warp," Flemons says. "People get it confused. A lot of times they think that when you interpret old music that you have to be old to do it. But that’s just not true. I am 31 years old and I have a style that I like and I go with it." And thanks to Flemons "going with it," an entirely new generation of listeners have become privy to the rich culture that's buried within these old-timey songs. However, don't get too entrenched in the past, as the new tunes from Prospect Hill promise to be filled with just as much jangly goodness as his beloved interpretations. Flemons will release Prospect Hill on July 29, and now that he's re-located back to North Carolina fans can expect to see a whole lot more of this well renown multi-instrumentalist. So local folks better prep themselves for some spoon slappin', jug blowin', banjo pickin' bliss, because Flemons' music is as infectious as ever.

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