Tennessee Twin's debut album combines Wolfe's mandolin prowess and songwriting skills with a gumbo of other instruments -- fiddle, accordion and pedal steel -- contributed by various guests. The instruments and ideas are strongly rooted in melodies from below the Mason-Dixon Line, but the sound is thoroughly modern and far perkier than traditional country. That might sound good in theory, but Free to Do What? dabbles a bit too deeply in Southern kitsch and suffers from oversimplified concepts and melodies.
The title track tries to address important issues, but lyrics such as Free to do what?/To buy this thing or that/Free to do what?/To choose this white man or that come off as cute. Wolfe fares better when she lets her songs slide into more somber territory. Eliminating the frenetic, clichéd twang that plagues most of the Twin's tunes, its slower numbers emphasize gently rocking fiddles and give Wolfe's grating Lori-Petty-meets-Patsy-Cline voice an organic touch. Wolfe deserves credit for creating a pop-inspired Southern sound that's neither alt-country nor an insipid bid for Nashville stardom. But to perfect her recipe, she needs to cut down on the sugar and load up on grit.