Review: Dori Freeman Explores the Duality of Love on 'Every Single Star'
Since Dori Freeman cold-messaged singer and producer Teddy Thompson on Facebook in 2014, the pair have had a strong professional partnership that has produced two standout albums that have shone a well-earned spotlight on Freeman's smooth vocals and understated lyricism. Now Freeman and Thompson are back for the third act with Every Single Star, out now on Blue Hens Music.
Freeman's first two albums, especially her self-titled debut, were written in the wake of a failed relationship and the bitterness and hurt that were natural fallout permeated every nook and cranny of her songs. Every Single Star finds Freeman happily married (to her drummer, Nick Falk) and raising a daughter. But that doesn't mean Freeman's songs have magically transformed into rainbows and puppies. Instead, there's an interesting duality present throughout. “Lie There” is an almost tentative love song about a partner struggling with depression and the narrator's desire to balm the wounds with affection, but hesitating with a fear of baring her soul too much.
Contrasting that is “Go On”, a kiss-off song that comes closest to capturing the bitterness of those first two albums. But Freeman is no jilted lover here. Instead she is a protective mother, definitively accepting the loss of the relationship but angrily taunting him over the lack of a relationship with his son. “And when he's older, do you think he will be blind, to all the memories and pictures in his mind”, she sings. It's as close to a raw vocal performance as Every Single Star gets, deviating slightly from Freeman's smooth delivery to reveal a chink in her armor.
Motherhood as a traveling musician is also a topic that gets a “both sides of the coin” treatment. The up tempo “Like I Do” is a straightforward declaration of unconditional love toward her daughter. “Til I had a little baby, I never knew that I could love someone like I love you.” It's a sweet song, full of wonder at the small thing that suddenly become special because they're filled with the most important person in her world.
The flip side of “Like I Do” is album closer and one of the Every Single Star standouts, “I'll Be Coming Home.” Music is littered with songs about the toll touring takes on romantic relationships (Kiss' “Beth”, Lynyrd Skynyrd's “Coming Home”) but there are a lot less about the milestones missed in a small child's life. “I feel the tension on the tether, tying me to you” Freeman sings to her daughter. But she also acknowledges the pull of performing, “Still, a living must be made on a microphone.”
Strangely, the album's other standout track is also at the end of the album, “2 Step.” This one finds Thompson stepping out of the producer's booth to record a retro-style duet with Freeman. For this song, Thompson puts on his best Bakersfield drawl to counterpoint Freeman's '60s country sweetness. “2 Step” not only refers to a literal dance, but is also indicative of the flirtatiously cautious back and forth between the two lovers, Thompson as the pursuer wooing a hesitant Freeman, who hints at being left “waiting by the telephone” by this man before, while also resigning to the mutual attraction that pulls her back in.
There's a lot to recommend on Every Single Star. Freeman has acknowledged in interviews that she listened to a lot of Linda Ronstadt before recording the album and it shows here, although the voice I hear most prominently while listening to Every Single Star is that of Karen Carpenter, if Carpenter had grown up steeped in Blue Ridge Mountain tradition. There's a soft almost whisper in Freeman's deliver that gives her the kind of vulnerability that made Carpenters songs like “Close to You” work. While all of Freeman's albums have been solid, this is the one that feels like she is most comfortable in her skin, fitting her traditional background, '60s croon, and Thompson's production together like a puzzle to deliver a picture that is so much more than its pieces.