Dori Freeman comes from Americana ground zero: Galax, Virginia. She’s still relatively young (early 20s), and she’s bringing her own tasteful, sometimes haunting update on a bunch of venerable American sounds to the big room at the Rockwood at 7 PM on May 19. Cover is $10.
It takes some nerve to open your debut album – streaming at Spotify -with a solo acoustic number, just voice and guitar. But that’s what Freeman does. The track is catchy: it’s easy to imagine fiddle and banjo and a bass pulsing behind her strums as she vacillates between longing and defiance: “I’ll be damned if I need any man to come to my rescue…the wall that you’ve been building, well it’s standing in the sand.”
Where I Stand is a sripped-down take on disconsolately waltzing Orbison Nashville gothic pop: “Once like a vision I haunted your mind, but the haunting I feel is a different kind,” she intones in wounded low register. Her voice is her big drawing card, gently parsing the blue notes with an ambered nuance that often makes her sound older than she is. Likewise, her lyrics can be imagistic and evocative: for example, when a treasured picture of a couple together falls off the wall, it brings relief instead of sadness.
Aloft on the wings of Jon Graboff’s melancholy pedal steel washes, Go On Loving is a vintage honkytonk ballad with spare Erik Deutsch piano and muted electric guitar, over the purist rhythm section of bassist Jeff Hill and drummer Rob Walbourne. Fine Fine Fine is an imaginative blend of jangly Americana, honkytonk and vintage 60s Phil Spector girl-group pop. Freeman offers a nod back to Merle Travis with Ain’t Nobody, a sarcastically fingersnapping, bluesy a-cappella blue-collar lament.
With its elegant Lynchian jazz tinges, the understatedly menacing Lullaby is the strongest song on the album, bringing to mind Eilen Jewell in a pensive moment. A wounded, muted country gospel ambience pervades Song for Paul, another real gem: “Catch me, catch me, catch 22,” Freeman sings to open it. Likewise, the honkytonk waltz Still a Child traces a simmeringly vindictive narrative. There’s also Tell Me, a jaunty electric pop song with blithely melismatic vocals and pizzicato fiddle from Alex Hargreaves, and the gently syncopated Any Wonder, which is the closest thing to corporate singer-songwriter fodder here.
Those of you who already know who Dori Freeman is might be wondering why a blog like this one – typically focused on the shadowy side of the street where all the most interesting things are happening – would cover somebody who’s already been praised to the rafters by the likes of Rolling Stone. The answer is that as vital and important as Rolling Stone’s political coverage has been and continues to be, it’s been thirty years since their music section had any relevance. Compared to what usually gets covered there, Freeman is in a completely different ballpark.