Dori Freeman‘s fifth studio album, Do You Recall, artfully lives up to its title. Notice that there is no question mark at the end of the sentence. The singer-songwriter isn’t asking; she’s telling you about her history. The songs come from her memories, some old and some recent. The material is simple and inviting. She’s not deeply reflecting as much as wistfully remembering the past. Therein lies the music’s charm.
Freeman has a warm voice that rarely stretches for a high note or reaches for a low one. She sings melodically and, at times, conversationally, whether telling stories about rural poverty or contemplating her romantic history. The Appalachian singer has a slight Southern drawl and sounds comfortable, whether accompanied by pedal steel or electric guitar. Her husband, Nicholas Falk, plays drums and provides a steady beat. The supportive tempo adds consistency to the record even as the songs range from folk (ish) to pop to rock.
The lyrics are often inner-directed. “Why do I do this to myself?” she asks on a track by that title. Freeman sings in the first person. “I don’t want to be sad / I don’t want to be blue,” she croons on “Rid My Mind”. Her protagonists find solace in ordinary pleasures such as being in the “Laundromat”, watching the clothes go around, getting tipsy, and heading to the cinema to stare at the actor on the “Movie Screen”.
When Freeman’s focus goes outside her inner feelings, they still address personal topics such as being a mother or part of a family and even her connections to her Appalachian neighbors. The protest song “Soup Beans Milk and Bread” lambasts capitalist exploitation from the perspective of one hungry with the intimate details of one from her region. Even when the odds are against the individual, Freeman expresses hope.
The songwriter’s not a Pollyanna. Freeman spells out problems that might seem insoluble but marches steadily forward to the sound of a metronome in her thoughts and efforts. “And god forbid you’re black or brown / There ain’t no woman safe or sound / When the rules they make are made to shit on you,” Freeman spitefully sings with a gentle lilt in her voice. She doesn’t sugarcoat the situation of race and gender in the larger environment, nor does she dismiss the crushing influence of poverty on the disadvantaged. But that doesn’t stop her from appreciating the good things in life or a person’s ability to fight the powers that be. The album is generally upbeat even when the songs’ subjects may suggest otherwise (i.e., heartache is just another sign that one is in love).
We can all sing and make music together, literally and metaphorically. Do You Recall serves as evidence of this principle. Freeman’s music celebrates how one of life’s simple pleasures can raise us above our problems and give us the strength to continue. Freeman ends the record with the simple ditty, “Gonna Be a Good Time”. She accentuates the positive as a way of looking towards the future. The album’s title may point to the past, but Freeman’s music directs the listener to keep pushing ahead. Better times are coming if we try.