Dom Flemons Credit: Timothy Duffy

Modern-day musicologist Dom Flemons first appeared in the spotlight in the 2000s as a member of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, a group of young black musicians keeping the African-American string-band tradition alive. After winning a Grammy in 2010 for Best Traditional Folk Recording, the original members of the group began to go their separate ways (singer and multi-instrumentalist Rhiannon Giddens is the only remaining cofounder). Flemons, who left in 2013, has been living up to his songster billing ever since. His most recent album, Dom Flemons Presents Black Cowboys (Smithsonian Folkways), focuses squarely on the music African-Americans created during the westward migration of the 1800s. Western music (as in “country and western”) was already in full bloom during this era, and black cowboys brought a distinctly bluesy element to it that has continued to reverberate since. To Flemons’s credit, the record doesn’t sound like a genre exercise or a period piece. His songs fit just as easily in a blues context as in a country situation, and he delivers more than enough fingerpicking to go around. When the term “songster” was popularized after the Reconstruction era and the end of slavery, it was used to describe the music of black musicians whose set lists contained an eclectic mix of musical styles. Yes, they could double down on the blues, but they could switch to a hoedown or a waltz on a dime if they had to rock the party. Flemons does an excellent job of keeping this strain going strong.   v