An unsuspecting Dori Freeman became the much-adored face of a restored Appalachian scene last year with the release of her self-titled debut album. She handled it in a seemingly apprehensive way at first, but who could blame her? A single mother singing olden-time mountain melodies and hymns didn’t exactly seem like the kind of thing to light the modernized country and folk world aflame—not with lackadaisical good ol’ boys and anthem-dependent rockers at the forefront of either which one of those milieus.
Yet, the Virginian songwriter did make a mark with that debut. In doing so, she seemed to accomplish what many would have imagined being impossible. Now, Dori Freeman is back in the saddle with a full-length sophomore effort that sees her relaxing into her newfound acclaim.
Many of the frills from her initial effort culminate here, of course. Or rather, the lack of frills thereof do. Two albums in, it can be assessed that the basis of a good Dori Freeman record is when she strips things back and relies on keeping her vocals front-and-center to tell a story. Instrumentation plays a key part in the ensemble, carrying things along and give the sound a top and a bottom end, but it never feels like too much. Even better, it gives the gorgeously simple a cappella performance of her grandfather, Willard Gayheart’s, song, ‘Ern and Zorry’s Sneakin’ Bitin’ Dog’ that much more of a memorable kick.
Yet, the tonal shift from Freeman’s debut release to Letters Never Read is evident from the get-go with opening track ‘If I Could Make You My Own’. Even if it’s technically a heartacher of a track where she is yearning for someone she can’t have, it’s in the sincerity and poise with which she carries the song that you can feel a difference. Everything in this collection of songs is a little more hopeful and a little more confident as Freeman gets more comfortable in her new bearings as a public contributor to our musical world.
Other than that, if you enjoyed her debut effort, you know what you’re getting here. She’s having a more organic evolution, not relying on any huge changes in sound. In this writer’s opinion, she really doesn’t have to. Dori Freeman has carved herself a niche in this business already by giving her own contemporary spin to old-school Appalachian sentiment. Between the covers acting as direct odes to Appalachia and her own brilliant songwriting that she feels more comfortable than ever with on this record, her consistency alone will take her far.