Dori Freeman’s self-titled debut album is the birth of a major new voice in Americana music. This talented young woman from Galax, Virginia, has a gift for songwriting that runs as deep as the veins of coal in her native Appalachia, and a voice that can sing pretty much any style of country music.
The first thing you notice about Freeman is her voice. It has a deep, rich butteriness, with sweet highlights here and there and an occasional hint of tartness, and it knows just where to break to convey the emotion of a song without slipping into bathos or over-emoting. Apt comparisons might be Nora Jones and Kelly Willis.
The next thing you realize is that Dori Freeman can really write a song. All 10 of the songs on this CD are her own. They cover a wide range of Americana, from the classic Nashville honky-tonk weeper of “Go On Lovin’ ” to the Iris Dement-style country folk of “You Say,” or the swinging rock ‘n’ roll of “Tell Me,” or Fleetwood Mac-style pop of “Fine Fine Fine” or the Tennessee Ernie Ford-style Appalachian soul of “Ain’t Nobody.” And while she’s obviously steeped in the traditions and tropes of these various types of American music, she steers clear of the most obvious clichés. Which is not to say she doesn’t employ subtle songwriterly tricks. In the first verse of that first track “You Say,” on which she’s accompanied only by her own acoustic guitar, she varies the lengths of the lines as in the actual conversation it’s meant to represent:
You say you can’t save me, but I never asked you to
can’t you just believe that I only wanted to lie there with you.
Then in the third line,
and now I’m telling you I love ya … gotta have ya … just to breathe,
She puts those pauses, little gasps for breath, in between the phrases, like she truly can’t breathe without the object of her love; and then returns to a smooth, single-breath delivery for the final line that reflects his own lack of breathlessness: and I need no reminder you don’t feel the same for me.
Although that and a couple of other songs are fairly simple, singer-with-a-guitar affairs, others are fully arranged songs with a backing band. That band includes the in-demand guitarist and pedal-steel player Jon Graboff, Jeff Hill on bass, pianist Erik Deutsch (Norah Jones, Roseanne Cash), drummer Rob Walbourne, and violin phenom Alex Hargreaves (Sarah Jarosz, David Grisman), who’s equally at home playing jazz, country or Grisman’s dawg music. In the producer’s chair is Teddy Thompson, who knows a thing or two about country music himself.
“I was drawn to this project initially by Dori’s voice, which is purity itself,” Thompson says. “She sings from the heart with no affectation.” Thompson also contributes his own beautiful harmony vocals, most notably on the devastating love songs “Where I Stood” and “Song For Paul.”
It’s early in the year, but Dori Freeman may very well go down as the Americana debut of 2016. You can learn more and get a free download of the opening track “You Say” on her website. She also is on Facebook.
Free Dirt, 2016
Here’s an informal video of her performing “Ain’t Nobody.”