Dori Freeman St Michans Church, Dublin 24th Jan 2019 / TradFest

This was Dori Freeman’s first time to play in Ireland and as her grandmother’s name was Dooley that connection made this trip to Ireland special for her. The impressive setting of St Michan’s may have been slightly nerve wracking at first but she soon settled in and played an 18 song set full of recorded tracks from her two albums and a selection of those which seemed right for the moment. She was ably accompanied by her husband Nick Falk on a small but versatile drum kind as well as banjo and excellent harmony vocals. She was wearing the white Manuel-style jacket she wore on the cover of her last album Letters Never Read. She started the set with that album’s opening song If I Could Make You My Own before playing some new songs from her upcoming third album. In this setting of acoustic guitar, percussion and vocals the immediate impression was of a slightly more country sounding direction than previously. 

Falk noted that they didn’t play bluegrass but were partial to some old time and gospel songs. A number of which they included in the performance. Which also included a Doc Watson song You Must Come In At The Door, another cover was the song Pretty Little Martha as well as their take on the Louvin Brother’s song Today. They had, she explained, something of a penchant for sad songs in their set. However, that said, it was still a warm and uplifting evening even if the hard back pews were a little uncomfortable on the rear and back.

You Say from her debut self-titled album was she told us was her most played song on Spotify (over 2 million plays) with all the attendant lack of royalties that come from streaming services. Freeman has a clear and engaging voice that was well suited the venue acoustics and the sound was good through the evening. She had recorded a song on the second album that was written by her grandfather Willard Greyheart titled Erin & Zorry’s Sneakin Bitin’ Dog which was a tale of an inhospitable mutt. He was hale and hearty and she had just recorded an album with him that she noted had titled out “real well.” It was due out shortly and sound like one to watch out for. As does her third album also due out later this year. Another old song included in the set and on her last album was Yonder Comes A Sucker an early Jim Reeves song that is not without a sense of tongue-in-cheekness. She also played Merle Haggard’s The Worst Is Yet To Come. The encore was a Baptist tune “one that you can dance to” titled Heavenly Sunlight. That seems an appropriate ending to the evening of music in a church. Even if as Falk noted that it was the fist one he’d been in where they were giving a free beer at the door on your way in! 

The evening opened with a short set from noted musician, broadcaster and compere Niall Toner with a his current four piece band. That included upright bass, dobro, mandolin, banjo and guitar. They played a number of Toner’s compositions including Lock & Key, Railroad Dreams and William Smith Monroe. Toner gave the fine band their head with a couple of fiery instrumentals. Toner has been at the forefront of homegrown bluegrass in Ireland for many a year and shows no signs of slowing down as he continues to spread the word.

NB: Both artists can also be seen playing at this years Kilkenny Roots Festival over the May Bank Holiday weekend.

Review by Stephen Rapid   Photography by Kaethe Burt O'Dea