“Sincerely, Dorothy” by Dear Herman | On The Record Review

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review by Jacob Zlomke and Chance Solem-Pfeifer

Audio Review

Table of Contents:

00:23 — Introduction
03:35 — The Three Levels of Interpretation
09:08 — Explaining Each Character
12:55 — Not a Lifetime Movie
16:55 — Why Is Dorothy Writing?
19:50 — Dorothy Is the Only Artist in the Family
24:15 — What a Play Can’t Do
27:29 — A Refreshing Woman’s Story

With Sincerely, Dorothy, Lincoln folk-duo Dear Herman issues something of a critical challenge. 

It’s an 11-track narrative wherein characters are inseparable from the music that brings them to life. To listen only to the album’s music would be to somehow resist getting swept up in Crystal Davy’s rich characterization. Further, as developed in tandem with a full-scale theatrical production of that narrative, performed January 17 and 18 at the Haymarket Theatre in Lincoln, the task of looking at Sincerely, Dorothy on strictly its musical merits becomes even more convoluted.

Davy and sister/bandmate Melissa Taylor are students of Allison Krauss and Emmylou Harris, developing an active woman narrator who tells her story through close harmonies and rich acoustic guitars. Where musically, Dear Herman takes cues from classic country, Davy’s knack for lyricism paints an ensemble of characters that in turn inhabit a vibrant and believable community and brings William Faulkner to mind before Patsy Cline or Hank Williams.

Dorothy Mains, the title character and narrator, has inside a year left to live. Her son and husband have become estranged after a fight. Dorothy begins writing letters to her son’s wife Annabel in an effort to restore family relationships as her final act of life. Each track on the album is framed as a different letter to Annabel, and each title named for the character whose story Dorothy has chosen to tell.

Somewhere near the end of the album’s first half, it’s clear that reuniting father and son may not be Dorothy’s only, or even primary, goal. Rather, these letters are an effort in tradition and preservation, a way for somebody, anybody, to remember the people that have been instrumental in the life of Dorothy and her family. Why else the digressions, the excess of personal detail?

For Dorothy, it’s urgent that she get these people down on paper before they all slowly fade away with nothing to show for their existence. Someone needs to know that Mrs. Julienne prays every day for Dorothy and that the Ramirez family has been crucial in helping her daughter deal with Dorothy’s illness. These are small, everyday people in an unknown coastal town that will someday sooner than later be swallowed by the Pacific, probably forgotten. But for Dorothy, there is none more important, nothing more worth preserving, even if only in unsolicited letters.

Jacob Zlomke is a Hear Nebraska contributor. Transmedia gets him real excited. Reach him at jacobz@hearnebraska.org.