Free Dirt Records
4½ stars (out of 5)
By Donald Teplyske
We are blessed with hearing new roots voices on a monthly if not weekly basis: few capture the timeless qualities of Appalachia within present-day circumstances as artfully as does the voice of Dori Freeman.
Freeman, still in her mid-twenties, hails from Galax, Virginia, a small community near Mount Airy, North Carolina, known for its barbeque competition, an old-time fiddlers’ convention and fest, and—according to IIIrd Tyme Out—a pretty little girl. No doubt, the town will soon be known for Dori Freeman.
Think back twenty or so years to the first time you encountered Iris DeMent. While Freeman’s voice isn’t as singular as DeMent’s, the impression upon first listening is similar: there exists in each voice a purity of intensity.
Freeman isn’t interested in presenting herself as some social archeology project, the mountain singer untouched by modern sway. She is a contemporary vocalist, one touched by the influences of her rural mountain upbringing as well as less-rustic contributions. She is a folk singer, a country singer, and a pop singer, all rolled into one appealing vocal package.
Having written these ten songs, Freeman most obviously has her own viewpoint and voice, one that has been honed by producer Teddy Thompson; rather than fracturing Freeman—as one might argue T-Bone Burnett did with Rhiannon Giddens last year—the focus of the arrangements, musicians, and production choices remain on Freeman and her songs.
The number that first caught my attention was “Ain’t Nobody,” a song that embraces Hazel Dickens’ “Working Girl Blues,” Parchman Farm chain gang songs, and Tennessee Ernie Ford’s “16 Tons.” Accompanied only by finger snaps, Freeman reaches an incredible level of intensity on this a cappella piece.
Whether she is “howling for you” (“You Say”), or identifying with a confused lover (“hold me, hold me, hallow thy name”) in “Song for Paul,” a lyrically and vocally playful song that bridges the sacred with the secular, Freeman presents her thoughts and reflections as honest possibilities within a realistic landscape of experience and emotion. “Still a Child” is a gentle (but definitive) kiss-off to an immature paramour, whereas “Fine, Fine, Fine” has as much in common with the Shangri-las as it does Patsy Cline or Loretta Lynn, singers used as reference points in several published reviews.
A debut set this strong comes around rarely. At a breezy 34-minutes Dori Freeman contains not a misstep, uncertain affectation, or easy-out rhyme. Quite magical, it is an album of music and songs to which you will return often.