Sometimes, when I listen to albums for review, it takes a few listens to form an overall opinion. Often, this serves the music well and allows me to appreciate things I had not first noticed, usually leading to better reviews. Often, on the first listen, certain songs stand out immediately; some above the rest, some that could have been left off the entire project. And then there are rare occasions when an album hits me on that first listen–these are the albums which deserve the highest praise because they take me out of a place of critical review altogether and leave me just enjoying the music. This is connection, and relatability, and it is at the heart of all music. I speak about production and instrumentation and songwriting, but at the end of the day, music is meant to make the listener feel something. With that in mind, meet Dori Freeman, a 24-year-old singer-songwriter from the Appalachian Mountains of Galax, Virginia, who brings us an album influenced by classic country, bluegrass, folk, and the Appalachian sound. You will certainly feel something when you hear this album–and it excels in production, instrumentation, and songwriting as well.
We are introduced to Dori Freeman with only her guitar and her voice, unheard of on any album in 2016, much less a debut. “You Say,” the opener, immediately hooks me with its first lines–“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.” In Dori’s voice, I hear the Appalachian sound that has long been lost in country music. It’s raw and honest, and makes you want to keep listening, accomplishing everything an opener should. It also tells me Dori Freeman is willing to take risks. “Where I Stood” is still just Dori and her guitar, although hear there are harmonies. This is a song about two people in a relationship who are reflecting that their love has died and that if they could do it again, they would not have chosen each other–“What happened to your dreams, what happened to mine? You’re wasting my love, and I’m wasting your time. I know you’d go back if you could, and you’d leave me standing right there where I stood.” “Go on Lovin'” is a classic country heartbreak song, with plenty of fiddle and steel, and more simple, honest lyrics–“How am I supposed to go on lovin’ when you left me feelin’ like I don’t know how.” Dori Freeman has a cry in her voice common to the Appalachian sound that really fits this song.
“Tell Me” is a pop-influenced track, but it’s not the pop country of 2016; it’s the vintage pop sound of Lynn Anderson and reminds me of something Whitney Rose might record today. Here, Dori is trying to convince a man to admit he wants her; it seems to be apparent to her that he does. The production actually really fits this, and if anything adds to the album as a whole–it proves that Dori Freeman knows how to interpret a lyric. Vintage pop worked better here than traditional country, and this speaks to Dori’s understanding of music in general. “Fine Fine Fine” is an upbeat song about catching a man cheating, but it’s “fine, fine, fine, if you wanna walk that line, but you’ll be leavin’ me behind if you do.” This one is also reminiscent of a Whitney Rose track, although with more country than “Tell Me.” There is some enjoyable piano on this track; we need more country piano playing. “Any Wonder” again carries the Whitney Rose-like influence of vintage pop and traditional country, although this is more country than the last. This is about two people falling for each other, and all the emotions that come with it–happiness and fear and anticipation. It’s a more complex song than the rest, capturing the various emotions perfectly.
And then there is “Ain’t Nobody.” I said that Dori is not afraid to take risks–and here is a song with only her voice and her snapping fingers. This is an Appalachian-influenced song if ever there was one; it’s an ode to the workers in the Appalachian coal mines, the farmers, the mothers, and the prisoners–“I work all night, I work all day, well, I work all night, I work all day. I said, I work all night, I work all day, cause ain’t nobody gonna pay my way.” Dori Freeman’s voice is raw, honest, and incredible, and it is absolutely remarkable that this is a cappella. If you choose one Dori Freeman song to listen to, pick this one, because it will make you a believer, and you will have to listen to all the others. It is one I will post here. “Lullaby” is another classic heartbreak song, this one about a woman who is up at night thinking of a man who is with someone else. This song brings back the country piano playing, and it fits the song perfectly. In fact, I cannot readily think of an album I have reviewed here where every song was so well-produced, with the possible exception of Kasey Chambers’s Bittersweet. “Song for Paul” returns to simply Dori, her guitar, and harmonies. This is another heartbreak song, and once again the lyrics are wonderful; Dori is telling Paul that whenever he should get lonely, “somewhere I’ll be thinking of you.” The album closes with “Still a Child,” a song about a man who won’t commit or grow up; “You say you need me, but I need a man, and you are still a child.” It’s an excellent way to close an incredible album.
If you haven’t figured it out, you need to hear this album if you consider yourself a fan of country, Americana, bluegrass, folk, or music. This is one of the best albums I have reviewed, and it makes me glad to help introduce the world to an unknown artist like this who deserves to be heard. This is an album of simple, tasteful production; every song is produced as it should be. The songwriting is excellent, and Dori Freeman has a unique and incredible voice carrying the nearly forgotten Appalachian sound. To add to all this, Dori took risks, like singing a cappella and with only a guitar–and this is her debut; she stands only to improve. But more than any of that, it’s a raw, honest album, that does everything music is supposed to; it evokes emotion in the listener, and it’s simply relatable and enjoyable music. Dori Freeman is a name you should know–and this is an album you should hear, and hear again.