Listening to Dori Freeman for the first time is a Loretta Lynn moment. How could a voice this pure come out of the tiny Appalachian town of Galax, Virginia? How could a songwriter so powerfully attuned to a woman’s heart come out with an album this beautiful without having been discovered already? Dori Freeman’s debut album heralds the arrival of a major new name in Americana music. And while Lynn had to move across the US to make her break, Freeman’s got no intention of leaving Galax; she’d rather just bring everyone closer to her. That’s just what she did with all-star producer Teddy Thompson, the son of Richard & Linda Thompson, who discovered Freeman over Facebook and agreed to produce her debut album based on the power of Freeman’s singing and songwriting.
Released on Free Dirt Records on February 5th, 2016, every song on this album is an original, and each one a window to a young woman in modern Appalachia, caught between the past, present, and future of one of America’s most fertile musical regions. That’s why Freeman can slip as easily into Nashville songwriting (“Go On Lovin’”), doo-wop swing (“Tell Me”), anthemic soul (“Fine Fine Fine”), or neo-classic pop (“Any Wonder”) as old-timey country (“You Say”) or gospel blues (“Ain’t Nobody”). A songwriting polymath, this kind of genre-bending would be impressive in any other young artist, but Freeman’s anchoring each of these excursions on two simple precepts: her stunningly beautiful voice and her deeply honest sense of songwriting. That’s what brought Thompson on board as her producer. “I was drawn to this project initially by Dori’s voice, which is purity itself,” Thompson says. “She sings from the heart with no affectation.” Enlisting artists like Jon Graboff (The Cardinals) on guitar and steel guitar, Jeff Hill on bass, renowned pop/jazz pianist Erik Deutsch (Norah Jones, Roseanne Cash), drummer Rob Walbourne, and violin phenom Alex Hargreaves (Sarah Jarosz, David Grisman), Thompson fleshed out Freeman’s songs without losing sight of their raw power. And while Loretta Lynn may be the easiest comparison to Dori Freeman, as both come from hardscrabble Appalachian backgrounds, perhaps Norah Jones would be a better match. Freeman’s debut album, like Jones’ debut, refuses to be pigeonholed into any genre, focusing instead on the rare instincts of a natural songwriter. “If you’re going to write songs that people want to keep listening to,” Freeman explains, “then you can only write about exactly what you know.”
There’s a deep vein of music running through the generations of Galax, Virginia. Families of musicians dating back a hundred years in this region have taken a no-compromise approach to their heritage, singing as easily about modern life as they would about the courtly lovers of the old ballads. What ties all these generations together is the voice; that haunting, high-lonesome sound that can nearly strip paint off a wall. Dori Freeman’s inherited this voice, just as she’s inherited a streak of musical heritage as deep as a coal mine. On her debut album, she proves that the music of modern Appalachia is in very good hands today.