As a former member of Carolina Chocolate Drops, Dom Flemons is no stranger to traditional music. Still, few artists dare to delve as deeply into traditional American music as Flemons does on his first solo outing since departing that band and casting out on his own. To call Prospect Hill an archival effort is like saying it’s occasionally cold in the Arctic. If one were unawares, it could easily be mistaken for something played in the parlor on an old Victrola, a mix of ragtime, early 20th century jazz and the kind of front porch picking that might entice the neighbors on Saturday night. There’s little concession to modern additives here, but the plucky performances and generally good time vibes brings a natural affable appeal.
Needless to say it’s clear that Flemons is well suited to play the role of traditional troubadour. Aside from the fact that he composed or adapted the majority of the songs, he takes the central role in casting them as well, laying out the melody on banjo and guitar and kicking up the rhythm with bass drum or a tap of his feet. The knee slapping sound of “Marching Up to Prospect Hill” and the dusty shuffle of “Georgia Drumbeat” assure a certain affinity, but the archaic ambiance still leaves room for variation. “Grotto Beat” may be the first ever hybrid of hip-hop, Celtic and rootsy rambling, but it’s the lilt and sway of the song “Too Long (I’ve Been Gone)” that encapsulates his more tender sentiments.
In an age where flash and frenzy seem to rule the marketplace, and hype and fashion are the signposts to success, Flemon’s unadorned approach becomes a wonderful respite. The most direct route to Prospect Hill is a circle that remains unbroken.
– Lee Zimmerman