When I listen to a new artist, I can usually tell upon first listen if they’re talented. Very rarely do I pick up a debut album, listen to it and realize I’m listening to something special. Upon the very first listen of the debut album of Dori Freeman, I knew I was listening to a special artist. But before I praise this album, you need to know who exactly is Dori Freeman. She’s a 24-year-old singer-songwriter from Galax, Virginia who comes from a family where both her grandfather and father have lived lives with music. Her grandfather is an artist and guitarist, while her father is a music instructor and multi-instrumentalist. Freeman doesn’t consider herself to be under one genre of music, but takes influences from bluegrass, rhythm and blues, and old country. At the heart of it is her Appalachian upbringing, something that country music has decidedly lacked recently. The Appalachian sound is sort of a lost art. But Dori Freeman reminds us all of just how fantastic is can be with her self-titled debut album.
The album begins with Dori Freeman singing the blues for man who was once in her life in “You Say.” Right away Freeman’s voice will absolutely melt your heart and hook you in, leaving you wanting more. It’s vocals like this that will leave you breathless after each time you hear her sing. The beautifully dark “Where I Stood” reflects back on a relationship that has gone down hill. Both know neither of them are the same people who fell in love with each other years ago and that they’re wasting each other’s time. It’s the classic tragedy of love lost and lusting for what once was in your life. Dori Freeman straight up reminds me of Patsy Cline on “Go On Lovin’.” I know this is a huge compliment and I’m comparing a new artist to a country icon. But I immediately felt chills when I heard this song because she sounds like Patsy so much. This heartbreak song couldn’t be more traditional country, from the lingering steel guitar to the carefully placed fiddle play. It reminds you of the golden days of country music when the Appalachian influence was palpable.
One of the more pop-influenced songs on this album is “Tell Me.” It’s really different from everything else you hear on this album and yet arguably could be the best. This song is definitely in the vein of the Nashville sound and at first you might not know how to size it up. But you’ll keep listening to it and find yourself wanting to come back to it again and again. “Fine Fine Fine” has Freeman telling off her no-good cheating man for doing her wrong. Everyone sees him out and about with another woman and this all gets back to her. The cheating man insists they’re just friends. Or as Freeman sings in the best line of this entire album, “You swear it was platonic, do you think I’m that moronic?” The songwriting on this song is superb. The mellow and easy-going “Any Wonder” follows. It’s about a man and woman slowly falling in love with each other. This is another song where you just sit back and marvel at Freeman’s brilliant voice tell a poignant story.
Just when you think you’ve heard everything on this album, “Ain’t Nobody” comes along and knocks you flat on your ass. All this song has is Freeman’s voice and the snapping of fingers. No instruments or production, just Freeman’s voice. I’m not even going to attempt to do it justice, so just take my advice and listen to this song. I think I could listen to an entire album of Freeman’s voice and no instrumentation. Another song where I hear a lot of Patsy Cline in Freeman’s voice is “Lullaby.” Perhaps the sultry-like tone created from the lingering piano in this song reminds me of “Walkin’ After Midnight.” The song itself is about a woman who is up late at night thinking about the man she loves. But she cries tears for him, as she knows he’s with another woman. It’s a love she can never have, a hauntingly beautiful story of a love that can never be shared.
“Song For Paul” is another heartbreak song where Freeman’s voice does such a great job of getting across the pain and suffering of a heartbroken soul. It has a gospel-like tone about it with the harmonized chorus, which brings even more emotion to the song. This beautiful album comes to a close with “Still A Child.” The man Freeman was with may look like a man and do everything he can to convince her that he is one, but in Freeman’s eyes he’s still a child. Freeman feels this way because at the end of the day his actions are still like a child with no clue of what they want in their life. In other words, he can’t commit to one woman. It’s a gripping and cutting song that ends the album with such an appropriately sharp manner.
I’ll be surprised if there’s another debuting country or Americana artist in 2016 that shows more promise than Dori Freeman. This debut album from Freeman blew me away upon the very first listen. In fact I had to play it several times over because only hearing it once wasn’t enough. Freeman’s vocals are crisp, pure and undeniably Appalachian. She was born to sing and very few possess her talent. The songwriting is top-notch and I couldn’t pick out a flaw in the instrumentation and production choices. This album excels and thrives in every area. You can pretty much call it flawless. It’s an album that every true country and Americana fan needs to hear. Dori Freeman is a name you need to know. This is one of the best albums I’ve had the privilege to write about on Country Perspective.
Get a free download of “You Say” on Dori’s website here.