Tuesday, May 12, 2020

CD Odyssey Disc 1367: Dori Freeman

Welcome back to the CD Odyssey! Let’s get to the music, shall we?

Disc 1367 is…. Every Single Star
Artist: Dori Freeman

Year of Release: 2019

What’s up with the Cover? This is a painting by Caitlin Mattisson, and it is absolutely beautiful. I’m not sure it could be any better, in fact. No, wait, there is one way. How about a portrait of a cat instead? Cats are better, Dori.

How I Came To Know It: Thumbing through the “miscellaneous F” section at the record store. I was already a fan of Dori Freeman from her previous two albums, but I had no idea she had put out a new one. And there it was! Not often an artist I like this much sneaks out a release without me knowing, but it made for a fun discovery. I bought it unheard based on how much I liked her previous work.

How It Stacks Up: I have three Dori Freeman albums, which is every one except some very early record from 2011 called “Porchlight.” I should look into finding that, although I suspect it will be a tough find. Of the three I have, “Every Single Star” comes in third. It’s good, but the field is just too strong.

Ratings: 3 stars but almost 4

Nothing matches a great tone. You can hit every single note through five octaves, but it is tone that touches the heartstrings. Dori Freeman has tone to spare; a sweet, sparse and straight-from-the heart directness that makes her a natural storyteller.

All of those qualities remain front and centre on her latest release, “Every Single Star.” And long-time producer Teddy Thompson has once again do exactly what you should do when you meet someone with such a gift; get the hell out of the way and let her shine. The production is as bare as a newly swept wooden cabin floor. This is also where you can imagine Freeman is singing. She has the frank openness of a small-towner, and you just know that whether she’s singing as herself or in character, she brings truth to every line.

On “Every Single Star” you can tell Dori Freeman has found contentment. To be sure, she still has songs about jilted love and worthless men, and she still does them well. But she balances these with songs about domestic bliss, two-stepping with your lover and being a mom.

With this balance, the ‘bad boy’ songs are less about heartbreak and more about Freeman telling us she is so over that kind of life. The best of these “get stuffed” songs is the seventies crooner, “All I Ever Wanted” where she evokes the slow romantic power of Linda Ronstadt in her prime. This is what Freeman does best, singing songs that have a timeless quality that have you checking the liner notes to see if they are from 1974, only to find she wrote them herself only last year. This one features an exasperated chorus of a reasonable woman who still can’t get her man to meet some basic expectations that is perfect in its simplicity:

“Would you listen to me when I’m talking to you?
No, I’m not that hard to satisfy
All I ever wanted was a decent man
To give a damn and try.”

The album also has a lot of “I love my child” songs, which isn’t my usual bag, but on tracks like “Like I Do” it inspires her to some of her best songwriting. The chorus is a bit saccharine, but you forgive it because Freeman’s heartfelt love is so unassuming and real. On “I’ll Be Coming Home” it works less well, but maybe the idea of rushing home to see your kid is such a foreign concept to my “cats not kids” lifestyle.

That’s How I Feel” is the strongest track on the record, with powerful imagery that captures the feeling of being parted from a loved one:

“One can in the back of the fridge
One doe sitting high on a ridge
One man with his foot off the bridge
That’s how I feel when I’m without you.”

I love the way this verse ramps up quickly from the slight amusement of the abandoned beer can, to the exposed deer on a hill, and eventually the despair of a man contemplating ending it all. Powerful stuff, and Freeman delivers it plainly, letting the power of her truth and tone imbue it with all the loneliness and vulnerability it implies.

If anything, the main thing holding back “Every Single Star” is the sheer brilliance of the two records that preceded it. Both of those have songs that make you feel like you’re falling through an ocean of a thousand sighs. The majesty and enormity of the tune and vocals together simply overwhelm you. “Every Single Star” is a solid record, and while “That’s How I Feel” comes close, overall the album lacks these anchor “wow” moments.

For all that, the record is still powerful, and clocking in at a very minimal 32 minutes, it had me eagerly going back to the start multiple times to start the journey over again.

Best tracks: That’s How I Feel, All I Ever Wanted, Like I Do, Go On

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