Dori Freeman at the Winningstad Theatre on Nov. 8, 2018

Rising folk star Dori Freeman played to her strengths on a chilly night in Portland.

Dori Freeman stepped on stage at Portland’s Winningstad Theatre on Thursday night and quickly confessed she might not be at her best. Such is life for a folk singer touring through the cold and flu season.

But just moments into her well-received set it was clear: Freeman had more than enough game to make a strong accounting of herself.

Armed with an acoustic guitar and a singing voice seemingly rooted to the true Appalachian vine, Freeman mixed in a measured dose of charming banter as she worked through a set list that from the start leaned heavily on the best songs from her critically acclaimed 2017 record, Letters Never Read.

The rising, Virginia-based folk star is traveling light on her current tour, accompanied only by her husband, Nick Falk, playing drums and occasional banjo while adding very complementary harmony vocals. The couple didn’t need anything more in presenting Freeman’s outstanding original songs along with a mix of country and folk covers from the likes of The Louvin Brothers, Doc Watson, Loretta Lynn and Loudon Wainwright III.

When you have a voice as clear and present as Freeman’s, you don’t need much more to hold an audience’s attention. In fact, the occasional a cappella performances that Freeman sprinkles in her live set have become the centerpieces of the show.

She said as much while introducing “Ern and Zorry’s Sneakin’ Bitin’ Dog” (listen below), a crowd favorite she said is her most requested song. Written by her grandfather, the song shines a spotlight on Freeman’s vocal and storytelling chops, her main stock in trade.

Freeman also shared a healthy batch of brand new songs from an album she plans to record in the first half of the coming year, and for which she launched a Kickstarter fundraising campaign just last week. Portland-based fiddle champion Luke Price joined Freeman and Falk on a few of the new songs, adding a little more texture to the material.

By the time she stepped off the stage for the evening, following an encore performance of “Heavenly Sunlight” (see Hartford, Rice and Clements), Freeman had wiped clean any concerns about her health, at least for one chilly night in Portland.

Local folk singer James Low opened the show. His rich, dark, sharply drawn original songs set the right tone for the evening and kept the crowd engaged throughout. Phil Favorite

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