Letters Never Read (Blue Hens Music)
Dori Freeman’s voice is on permanent vacation.
While some singers can sound as if every sinew of their body is vibrating with the effort of translating song to ear - working hard to convince, working harder to hold our attention – Freeman’s voice sounds as if it is stretched out by the pool, occasionally peeking over the top of a chunky book to ask for a top-up of the tall glass beside it.
In the Laurel Canyon-meets-Rufus Wainwright pop shine of Lovers On The Run, it feels like dusk viewed from a hammock when Freeman sings; all through the pre-rock’n’roll shimmer of Turtle Dove if you were told she had recorded it on a live-to-air black and white variety show, while wearing Balenciaga or Chanel, there’d be little reason to doubt.
Even when she sounds sprightly, as in her absolutely infectious version of Yonder Comes A Sucker (a New Orleans-style brisk military drum pattern fair skipping away and making you skip along too), or the heel-toe-heel-toe Over There (with Nick Falk setting aside drums to jaunty up the banjo), the Virginian’s singing has the feel of languorous summer evenings.
(Incidentally, when Freeman performed Over There in Australia on The Right Note, the song was then called Starry Crown.)
Relaxed? I couldn’t be this at ease if you dosed me on oxycodone and top shelf whisky. To listen to Freeman sing is to allow your forehead to be stroked, your neck to be massaged and your ears to be caressed.
While this may seem an unequivocal advantage, for pleasure this easy is impossible to resist, the downside for Freeman may be that we can slide right by the control she has of that voice and miss the nuances in both writing and performance.
It’s something her producer, Teddy Thompson, would understand. Not just because he also made her impressive, self-titled debut, but because his own singing and playing style leant to the languid, and confused people who wanted to see sweat before they committed.
But Thompson and Freeman don’t seem too worried. Letters Never Read not only retains the relaxed manner of its predecessor but expands a bit further the easy styles at her disposal.
Strong as she is on her native Appalachian-style material – if you aren’t charmed by the unaccompanied vocal performance of Em And Zorry’s Sneakin’ Bitin’ Dog you have darkness in your soul – Freeman is to the manor born with the gently swaying Cold Waves (think early Norah Jones with fiddle rather than piano solo) and the ‘70s country rock of If I Could Make You My Own (with Thompson making like Don Henley to her Linda Ronstadt).
I don’t think she adds anything to I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight – by Thompson’s father Richard, who guests on the album – as for me this is a song which needs a slight edge.
But even here, her fluid flow pulls you along without too much complaint. And in any case its faults are probably made up for by the darker ring surrounding That’s All Right, a song that crosses some new thresholds for her.
Quite a lovely record this. Long may the vacation last.