Daryl Leroi Fleming
The Blockhouse & Bloodhound Sessions
Sort Of Records
As one of Pittsburgh's more versatile independent musicians, Daryl Fleming's cachet continues to grow. Since his heady days playing in the legendary '90 avant-jazz group Water Shed 5tet and shambling along Tom Waits-like in the Crawlin' Low Band, he's expanded into Ben Opie's Opek big band and Eden McNutt's improv ensemble Dust & Feathers, and pursued dramatic and literary expression.
Fleming's love, however, seems to be the Public Domain, an experimental folk band that fluctuates in size and scope with each project. For this latest CD, his third effort as a leader, the retinue consists of violinist Megan Williams (ex-Boca Chica), pianist Dave Bernabo (ex-Vale & Year) and bassist Justin Brown. Even without a drummer, they collectively provide enough backbone to convey Fleming's intelligent, contemplative musings and intricate guitar ministrations.
From the lyrics, it's easy to tell Fleming has a bent for political science and philosophy. In past recordings, he tackled subjects as varied as Jimmy Carter, 19th-century populism and poet Bernard De Mandeville's ode to capitalism. Here, he looks to presidential also-rans for material, name-checking William Jennings Bryan on "Third Party" and giving the nod to Ron Paul on the third track ("you say the man is unelectable / You're cynical, and so am I").
The difference between Fleming and many contemporary singer-songwriters and anarcho-folkies is that he offers thoughtful, applicable analyses of historical facts, rather than simplistic anti-Bush polemics and post-Seattle utopianist pipe dreams. When he pulls out a reading from David Hume, it almost makes you want to go back to school for that master's degree. And he's no cheery optimist -- Fleming's use of Madame Pompadour's famously decadent soundbite "Aprés nous, le déluge" seems to indicate his belief that dimmer times are ahead as the American Empire declines.
Yet the instrumental pieces on the album (recorded by Bernabo in a Cheney-esque "undisclosed location") also show that Fleming and his band have the chops to stand out in a New Weird America scene that includes Vetiver or Ben Chasny. For as long as Blockhouse lasts -- under 24 minutes -- I can think of no better soundtrack to enjoy as our infrastructure collapses, dirty nukes explode in the cities, and the remnants of suburbia retreat to the woods to subsist in log cabins like the Unabomber.