Tuesday, December 13, 2016

CD Odyssey Disc 947: Dori Freeman

For the second straight review the CD Odyssey sends us into the realm of country, this time for one of the best albums of 2016.

Disc 947 is….Dori Freeman (Self Titled)
Artist: Dori Freeman

Year of Release: 2016

What’s up with the Cover? No frills, just an honest young woman inviting you into her living room for a few songs.

How I Came To Know It: I read an article about Dori Freeman in American Songwriter magazine and decided to check her out. I liked what I heard so I sought out her album. It wasn’t easy to find, so I resorted to online purchasing. Sorry, local record stores; even I fall down sometimes.

How It Stacks Up:  I only have one Dori Freeman album. I hope she makes many more in the years to come.

Ratings: 5 stars

I’ve got a lot of music in my collection, and within that collection more than a few beautiful female voices. Dori Freeman is one of the best. She may only just be starting out but she is every bit as inspiring to listen to as Emmylou Harris, Patsy Cline or Capercaillie’s Karen Matheson. Freeman’s voice is sweet and strong, never straining to hit a note but still hitting every one with an easy power and a tone that was stolen from the angels.

I suspect Freeman could sing equally well in any style, but she’s chosen to sing folk-tinged country songs that are simple, direct and from the heart. Like the album cover implies, this is an artist not afraid to invite you into her private life. Despite this, she yet never makes you feel uncomfortable while sharing her hopes and fears.

Those hopes and fears tend to be tales of broken or unrequited loves, and a woman who still stands unbroken through all of life’s romantic storms. The songs have an easy and lilting flow, and you feel secure in their embrace as Freeman’s powerful instrument sings you a lullaby and assures you that everything is going to be just fine.

Producer Teddy Thompson (a folk singer in his own right) seems to intrinsically understand to keep out of the way and let Freeman’s voice work its magic. Some songs are just acoustic guitar, some have a tasteful piano and some have a little violin. In each case, Freeman’s vocals are front and centre in the mix (as though you could deny them). One song – “Ain’t Nobody” – is entirely a capella and finger snaps, yet as powerful as a full orchestra.

It would be enough just to hear Freeman sing, but equally impressive is that she writes every song on this record. These songs show none of the awkwardness or rough edges common to songwriters early in their career. Each of these songs is a carefully crafted combination of melody and lyric, sometimes resolving at the end and sometimes leaving you wanting more, and intrinsically knowing when to do which.

The style is fundamentally country, but it is clear early on that Freeman isn’t obsessed with genre or definitions. Introspective singer-songwriter folk songs like “You Say” and “Where I Stood” blend seamlessly with seventies throwbacks like “Go On Lovin’” and fifties crooners like “Lullaby”. All the songs have a timeless quality that feel like they’ve been around for decades, and not written in the last year or two by some relatively unknown singer from the tiny town of Galax, Virginia.

On an album loaded with standouts it is pretty hard to pick out favourites, but “Where I Stood” qualifies with its haunting tale of a woman recognizing that her love for her man is one way, and needs to end:

“Whoever said you were breaking the law?
Can you really hurt somebody if nobody saw?
Somehow we’re dreaming and dreaming so deep
When neither of us ever gets any sleep.

“What happened to your dreams, what happened to mine?
Your wastin’ my love and I’m wastin’ my time
I know you’d go back if you could
And you’d leave me standing right there where I stood.”

Ouch. The idea that your lover would have left you there if they could only go back. At the altar? On the day they approached and said hello? It isn’t clear but all the options are devastating.

I’ve rarely experienced such oft-traveled roads sound so fresh and poignant as Freeman’s exploration of these themes. The songs underscore the childlike innocence we have when we love, and how careless and foolish it can make us, even as it inspires us and fills us with awe.

The whole record is over in a crisp 10 songs and 33 minutes, and left me hungry for more. If you have the same experience, just go back and listen to it a few more times; it only gets better.

This morning I read the AV Club’s top 20 albums of 2016. There were a couple of records I was glad to see included (Leonard Cohen, Angel Olsen), but I mostly found myself scoffing at the choices. Not a single vote for Dori Freeman’s masterful creation. This is not only one of the best records of 2016, it is one of the best records I’ve heard.

Best tracks: all tracks

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