Some musical artists work their entire lives to never achieve the level of talent and the type of intrigue in their music that other artists seem to almost wistfully back into as if on accident. As some leave careers and opportunities behind to pursue a musical dream, others fall into the profession almost as a second or last resort. As some use family, children, or the need for economic stability as the excuse to stifle their musical desires before they’re fully realized, others use economical hardship and the arrival of offspring as the motivation to make better use of their time on Earth no matter the sacrifice.
Blame natural born ability and pedigree, or just the whimsical yet auspicious aligning of the right people, places, and moments for the sometimes seemingly unjust way an era’s most compelling musical artists are selected from the crowd of hungry prospects, but Dori Freeman has certainly been graced as on of the beneficiaries of the selection process. Where some singers and songwriters need layers of music, production, and technology to cover up their imperfections or embellish their talents to the point of being amiable to the public, Dori Freeman benefits as the presentation becomes more simplistic and stripped back. The only reason Dori Freeman doesn’t sing her music solely a capella is because it may become monotonous at some point. It may, that is. But she could.
In such busy and cluttered times as these, when all information and music seems filled with acrid sentiments and divisive tones, Dori Freeman is separating herself from the gaggle of country’s most encouraging prospects by mining the simple beauty from Appalachian dialect and tone, taking deprecated compositions in outmoded tongues and making them feel more relevant than the most modernized hip-hop beats, and then contribution her own original expressions in tastefully and intelligently arranged moments, ushering the listener away to a place apart from the constant friction of modern, stifling noise.
With her self-titled debut in 2016, Dori announced herself as an immediate attention-getter in the Appalachian country space. But there was a still a timidness present, especially in her live show. She was unwilling to participate in social media, or expound on personal information like the fact that she was a single mom. A year has done wonders for her confidence. Her consent to share the inspiration behind her songs now makes them even more personal to her audience. And as Kitty Wells, Loretta Lynn, and Emmylou Harris before her, she’s proven that bearing young is not the death sentence on a musical career the patriarchal society often decrees, it can be the impetus and inspiration for creative exploration and the pursuit of personal goals.
Letters Never Read picks up right where Freeman’s self-titled debut leaves off, with the exquisite Teddy Thompson reprising his role as producer, just the right mix of stripped down acoustic and a capella numbers peppered between full band tunes to keep the ear attune, a few traditionals like “Over There” and Jim Reeves’ “Yonder Comes A Sucker” to ground everything to the roots, and original tracks that test the tear ducts for operational capacity.
This new album opens and is anchored by the spirited, yet pining waltz of “If I Could Make You My Own.” Deep betrayal and frustration is at the heart of “That’s All Right,” while a calm wisdom of taking control of one’s own fate marks the moral of the song. Even a somewhat silly song like “Ern & Zorry’s Sneakin’ Bitin’ Dog” (written by Freeman’s grandfather) holds its entertainment value from the by-gone sentiment and plaintive language served with no instrumental accompaniment by Dori.
Letters Never Read does feel just a little light on material when considering four songs are covers, and the 10 tracks comprise less than 30 minutes. It also feels like the album doesn’t unearth any new ground for Dori, and instead is more of a continuation of her previous effort. With the way the last record was received (and how this new record should be), it’s hard to second guess anything or suggest a change of direction. Letters Never Read is sweet perfectitude for what it is. But it’s always nice to see a growth factor of some sort from one project to the next, especially from such a promising artist such as Dori.
Originally from Galax, Virginia, and growing up in a family of bluegrass musicians, music almost seemed like too obvious of a pursuit for Dori at first. So she went to college and worked in the family’s frame shop. But eventually the music found her, because it was meant to. It wasn’t forced, it wasn’t the pursuit of some musical fantasy. It was her calling, but only at the right time, when heartache gave rise to the original songs she needed to capture her true voice, and the birth of her daughter made for a re-evaluation of priorities.
Now Dori has done what odds say is nearly impossible: built a career around playing antiquated Appalachian music with the addition of some modern original perspective, disproving the idea that there’s no appetite for older music, and no prospect for artists unwilling to compromise to the music industry’s autocratic rules. Dori Freeman did it her own way and in her own time, proving nothing can hold back the power of a voice meant to be heard.
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