The Release Date
October 20, 2017
Dori Freeman grew up in a family of bluegrass musicians, raised on a diet of Doc Watson and the Louvin Brothers. Her hometown of Galax, Virginia is steeped in Blue Ridge Mountains/Appalachian music traditions. She liked the pop melodies of singer-songwriter Teddy Thompson and liked even more singing along with his CD. The urge to contact him proved too strong and the-then 22-year-old single mom reached out to him via Facebook, with a note saying how much she would like to sing with him. Three days later, he wrote back.
Way back in January 2016, I was given a digital copy of her self-titled release. Through more chance than method, I loaded it up and Ka-boom!! Her voice just took over the room, oblivious to the less than perfect sound equipment medium through which I was hearing it. I later wrote on this site a rather short, but glowing review. I called it ‘Incandescent’.
More importantly for her career, it wasn’t just me. The New York Times named Freeman’s self-titled debut—an honest and achingly beautiful collection of folk and country songs one of the best albums of 2016. The response to that release was universally glowing and, on the back of that, Freeman has been touring extensively, all over the place in fact (including two trips to Australia) and I was able to catch her four times in twelve months without going too far out of my way.
How do you follow such a resounding and acclaimed debut?
This time around, Freeman has assembled ten tracks, six of them originals. The balance is made up of the traditional tune “Over There”, Jimmy Reed‘s “Yonder Comes a Sucker”, Richard Thompson‘s “Bright Lights” and a song from her own grandfather, Willard Gayheart – “Ern and Zory’s Sneakin’ Bitin’ Dog”.
Freeman again turned to Thompson (the younger) to produce and contribute musically to the follow up, Letters Never Read. It also features guest appearances by his dad Thompson senior, as well as Aiofe O’Donovan, Canadian psych-folk duo Kacy & Clayton and fellow musician and partner Nick Falk (who plays drums and banjo on the album). It was recorded at Brooklyn Recording and The Bass Station. Other luminaries contributing include master guitarists Neal Casal and Jon Graboff, Dave Speranza on bass and Roy Williams on keyboards.
Of her Appalachian roots:
“I don’t try to overdo any songs or put on big theatrics. I think simple is better. “I think people have an idea of what this area in the country is like, and what that music sounds like, and it’s not necessarily a really nice picture that’s been painted. I want to break that stereotype down,” she says. “I’m proud of where I’m from. And I want to bring that kind of music to a new audience in a different way.”
The Track List
- If I Could Make You My Own
- Just Say It Now
- Lovers On The Run
- Cold Waves
- Ern and Zory’s Sneakin’ Bitin’ Dog
- Over There
- I Want The See The Bright Lights Tonight
- Turtle Dove
- That’s All Right
- Yonder Comes a Sucker
The starter “If I Could Make You My Own” seems an optimistic statement, but is written in the style of a murder ballad. It is a polished country song with a depth of arrangement perhaps not seen on her debut. “Just Say It Now” has a much darker tone, in the body of a well-crafted melody:
“I wish that lovin’ didn’t have to be so hard
You hold my lily hands but only feel the scars
And now I’m fallin’ apart at the seams”
“Lovers On The Run” has a strong percussive thread propelling a tale of letters never read, empty beds and life on the road having lost its thrill. The slow and haunting “Cold Waves” is an achingly honest portrayal of depression and love (‘Cold waves, blue haze, that’s what it feels like, on the dark days’), Freeman’s voice remarkable and quivering. The relief follows with another vocal triumph (this time unaccompanied) in “Ern and Zory’s Sneakin’ Bitin’ Dog”. The banjo-driven old Gospel tune “Over There” provides another counterpoint, adding to the layers of diversity. Freeman’s cover of “Bright Lights” has plenty of depth and reward, propelled by an electric guitar shuffle, while the lilting, tender “Turtle Dove” is another pleasurable homage to love. Another master song follows – “That’s All Right” with Freeman’s plaintive vocals mesmerizing:
And every time
You held me down
You looked at me
Just like the devil had been found
But in your eyes
You knew it too
That it was only your reflection scaring you
“Yonder Comes A Sucker” closes out proceedings, as if the last word belongs to her musical traditions, a farewell with just voice and percussion swirling together.
Letters Never Read is a more mature and carefully considered collection than its predecessor. It is a wonderful gumbo of great country songs, raw emotions, studied arrangements, Appalachian traditions and one of the most glorious voices you could want to hear.
How DO YOU follow such a resounding and acclaimed debut?
Like your own children, you can’t prefer one over another. They are all wonderous gifts, just like Letters Never Read, one of the albums of the year.
via Hearth Music