Although performing as a duo for the first time, the two had an “old soul” symbiosis, choosing tunes that suited them both extremely well. The performances were loose and joyful, clearly a labor of love.
Utilizing the intimate setting of Greenwich House’s second floor theater to full advantage – literally like having someone play your living room – each took turns explaining the unique history of a song or the artist who recorded it. Flemons demonstrated the term hokum with the double entendre riddled tune “Keep Your Yes Ma’am Clean,” while Reed related surprise at finding a “5” Royales song had been covered by a classic bluesman. They agreed on most “likes,” a mutual confusion over just what lyrics go with which Jimmy Rodgers “Blue Yodel,” and admitted only a good natured divergence on preferring “Sonny Boy” Williamson I (John Lee Curtis) or II (Rice Miller.)
Over the course of the evening they juggled instruments from guitars and banjo to piano. There were dueling harmonicas (“harps” to bluesmen) featured on “Polly Put the Kettle On” and Dom pulled out the “peculiar” castanet-like “bones,” panpipe styled “quill,” and coaxed bass notes from an old cider jug to augment the sound. The set ended with “Do Lord Remember Me,” an a capella call and response that brought the audience to their feet to clap and sing along.
Dom Flemons, formerly of The Carolina Chocolate Drops and currently on solo tour through August, will be back in NYC in April for the Brooklyn Folk Festival at The Bell House. Although not in his arsenal of instruments that night Flemons related purchasing a large 6 string banjo at Brooklyn’s RetroFret guitar shop, similar to the one played by Papa Charlie Jackson (author of “Salty Dog” and “Spoonful Blues”) whose “Baby Please Loan Me Your Heart” the duo included in the set.
Flemons’ current album is American Songster. It’s loose field-recorded vibe and detailed annotation is about as close to a modern day Folkways record as you’re likely to find. It’s available on the Music Maker Series label, as are the current recordings of other Chocolate Drops cohorts, Rhiannon Giddens and Leyla McCalla.
The Music Maker Relief Foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping the “true pioneers and forgotten heroes of Southern music traditions.” See their website for what you can do to help.
In retrospect the event served not only as a wonderful night of music and unique pairing of two kindred souls but as a primer on the cross pollination of blues, folk, country, soul and balladry. Kind of like a live version of Barney Hoskyns’ book Say It One Time for the Broken Hearted. I hope Dom and Eli can find the right time in their schedules to do this again soon.
The Café au Go Go Revisited Series, conceived by Greenwich House Music School Director Rachel Black and compiled/curated by Jennie Wasserman, continues on Thursdays through April 24, 2014. Check the website for upcoming artists and ticket purchase information.