Freeman was born in Galax, Virginia, a town in the Appalachian Mountains. Her extended family has a rich association with mountain music, so much so that the Freemans own a shop along the state heritage trail, aka Crocked Road, where travellers seek out genuine original music from Appalachia. It’s also far away from the horrible commercial sounds of “new country” which percolate out of Nashville. Even though she’s 24 years of age, you can hear the ghosts of American music past delighting on every note she sings. Her voice and her thoughtful song writing impressed Teddy Thompson so much he agreed to produce her first record without hesitation, “I didn’t really do anything other than put a microphone in front of her,” he told No Depression magazine. Thompson also sings on three tracks – “Where I Stood”, “Any Wonder” and “A Song for Paul” – which stand out for their harmonies and silky instrumentation.
One of the highlights of the album is Freeman’s song “Ain’t Nobody” with a steady finger snap and her solo vocal. The tune reminds me of Peggy Lee’s classic song “Fever,” but the words weigh heavy, much like “Sixteen Tons” by Tennessee Ernie Ford. Freeman sounds like an old soul on this one as she sings, “I work all night. I work all day, cause ain’t nobody gonna pay my way.” Another sign of maturity is heard on “Still A Child” where she sings about the man who calls her “baby,” which she hates, but she still loves him in spite of the fact that he “says he’s sorry but don’t know what for.” The cheeky attitude is so nuanced on that song that you almost miss it.
Another highlight is “Go On Lovin” which calls back to the Tammy Wynette tradition of hurtin’ songs about a jilted lover who disrespects her so much that she’s lost the ability to love again. The sound mix is right out of the Owen Bradley handbook whose legacy of recording such country music stalwarts as Loretta Lynn and Kitty Wells lives on in this track. Bradley also produced records by Patsy Cline and that haunting sound is beautifully rendered on Freeman’s “Lullaby,” a gentle song featuring a short but charming solo from guitarist Jon Graboff. Clearly the rule “less is more” was written across the door of the studio.
Considering all the so-called new country albums produced within an inch of their lives by engineers who have lost their ears, Dori Freeman stands out because her producer, Teddy Thompson, stopped and listened. Freeman’s debut isn’t going to push music in any new directions, but it is beautiful and honest: two of the most important qualities of lasting art.
John Corcelli is a music critic, broadcast/producer, musician and member of the Festival Wind Orchestra. He’s just finished Frank Zappa FAQ: All That’s Left to Know About the Father of Invention (Backbeat Books) to be released in September.