Dori Freeman,
Letters Never Read
(Blue Hens Music, 2017)

Let us open with an acknowledgement of Dori Freeman's genuine talent. Hers is among the more appealing vocals on the current roots-pop scene. On her second CD, under the sonically able guidance again of producer Teddy Thompson (son of Richard & Linda, himself a singer-songwriter), she wisely does not depend solely upon her own writing, overpraised by nearly everybody except, as far as I can tell, me.

If you've got it (and Freeman has some of it), you can't go wrong with the banjo-driven traditional "Over There" (more often known as "Starry Crown"), Richard Thompson's folk-rock classic "I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight" and Jim Reeves's 1950s country hit "Yonder Comes a Sucker." The amusing cracker-barrel yarn "Ern & Zorry's Sneakin' Bitin' Dog" comes from her grandfather Willard Gayheart. Freeman lives in Galax, Virginia, practically the capital of mountain music, thus accounting for the reference in the promo sheet to her "rough-edged, Appalachian twang," which refers to her speaking, not to her singing, voice.

Stylistically, alas, she's all over the place. At their least compelling her originals take their inspiration, I infer, from the pop (i.e., non-rock 'n' roll) songs on early Beatles albums. "Lovers on the Run" could be the title of a Paul McCartney song. I freely concede that I am less than a rabid Beatles fan, though I think I can tell the difference between their stellar moments and their opposites, and their early pop stuff falls -- perhaps enthusiasts will agree with me here -- into the latter camp.

I wonder, too, if Freeman, in her mid-20s, fully understands what she wants to put forward in song. Her songs, standard-issue romantic confessions and laments, do not linger long in memory. It doesn't help that Letters Never Read is less than half an hour long, allowing for barely more than the impression of a superior voice attached to --with the exceptions noted above -- the too-often generic.

While I genuinely hate to say this, maybe Freeman should take some time off for some serious woodshedding, to try to assess what she wants to say and how she wants to say it. It's surely true that she has the potential to be an artist well out of the ordinary, but it's also surely the case that she has been recorded too soon.

music review by
Jerome Clark

16 December 2017

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