Dori Freeman - Dori Freeman

Free Dirt Records DIRT-CD-0074

A new name to me, Dori Freeman’s self-titled debut album announces the presence of a distinctive voice in a world flooded with same old, same old. The 24-year-old’s well-developed sense of melody, nuanced singing and excellent guitar-playing shine throughout this superb offering. Deeply rooted in Appalachia, this record represents a living connection to a heritage of song, spanning an ocean and several generations, that manages to feel pure but still rigorous, not disconnected from reality or the modern. It is also a record about healing, of acknowledging the wounds (both self-inflicted and otherwise) of one’s past and moving beyond them. As personal as the album is to Dori Freeman and her world, there’s a universality to it as well. It manages the rare feat of feeling introspective while speaking directly to you. Who among us wouldn’t find something to relate to in her poignant ode to a relationship’s end (the moving opener You Say), or her evocation of the chest-aching beauty of Still A Child, or her remembrance of an old friend (Song For Paul). The songs might be inspired by her life and the lives of those close to her, but they are for us all.

They are bravely crafted stories laid out to full exposure. The beauty of musical simplicity is what allows Dori to astound listeners with just her acoustic guitar and magical voice on the emotional Where I Stood. There’s a fuller sound on Go On Lovin’ a classic old-time country heartbreaker with haunting fiddle, weeping steel and barroom piano tinkling behind her Appalachian twang; her husky vocals reminiscent of prime time Jean Shepard and Loretta Lynn. In contrast, Tell Me is more up-beat, with an early 1960s pop vibe and a catchy chorus that counterbalances the sad-edged lyrics. Any Wonder and Lullaby also stand out on this confident set of delicate and fiercely individual songs.

Full marks to producer Teddy Thompson for both the inventive musical arrangements, but also for allowing Dori Freeman’s vocals the space and freedom to shine. The more you listen, the more this album reveals itself. Timeless in feel, it’s like a favourite book, evoking the literary song-craft era of the 1970s offering glimpses of Carole King, James Taylor and Jim Weatherly, without at any time borrowing from any of them as Dori slips effortlessly between musical worlds but retains a personal modesty rooted in traditional Appalachia. A rare voice in this cluttered world of country pop and banjos-for-the-sake-of-banjos alternative country, Dori Freeman has set the bar as high as it goes with this monumental no-pressure collection of ten soul-searching, starkly beautiful songs.

Hers is a magical gift, one that we’ll hopefully be treated to much more of in the future.