My introduction to Iris DeMent was one of random fate. I was channel surfing many years ago and ended up on CMT (back when they played music videos all the time). I sat through the end of a Dwight Yoakam tune and the next video that came up was for DeMent’s “Our Town.”
It was a moment I’ll never forget as her unique vocal phrasing and straight from the heart songwriting just leveled me on the spot. I actually went out that very day and bought the CD, which the local store happen to have a single copy of, Infamous Angel. I was hooked, all the way in and I darn near burned a hole in that little disc.
Here’s a spectacular version of that song performed live in an intimate setting with another lady you might recognize, Emmylou Harris. The clip has over a million views so there’s obviously still a very passionate following for the Arkansas-born singer.
If you’re not an all in fan, you might recognize her unmistakable voice from the end of The Coen Brothers remake of True Grit. It was Iris’ version of “Leaning On the Everlasting Arms” that was chosen to encapsulate the stellar break-out performance of Hailee Steinfeld as a determined young Mattie Ross.
If you go a little further back and were a fan of the hit show Northern Exposure, the above “Our Town’ was used in the montage scene that closed out one of the best written shows in TV history. Seems like Iris is the kind of artist other artists want to have singing their work home.
She followed up her first album with one entitled My Life. It received a Grammy nomination but in my world it garnered a much more important nod. My brothers, a friend and I get real serious and put together a list for the top albums of each decade. In the 90′s My Life came in at the top spot for me narrowly beating out Neil Young’s Sleeps With Angels and Bob Dylan’s Time Out of Mind respectively. That record still stands as the most honest work I know.
Following the intimacy of My Life, Iris geared it up a notch with The Way I Should in 1996 and then 8 long years passed until she put out a gospel covers album from which “Leaning” was culled, Lifeline. Then recordings wise Iris Dement disappeared.
Gone. She would make rare live appearances and did a great job on a number of duets with John Prine but for original Iris DeMent recordings, I for one had given up hope. I had come to accept that the brief burst of those 3 records, especially the first 2 would have to do. I had no complaints actually because they were that good and Iris gave so much of herself to those recordings and in the end I figured it was her own damn business if she wanted to make records or not. But then it happened ….
“The wait was right. I wasn’t ready up until then. The songs weren’t ready. The right bunch of players, producers, engineers… you name it, it wasn’t there till now. I’m glad I waited.”
She “leaked” the title track for an early listen and while my nerd side usually waits to hear an entire album, the longing proved too strong and I took a listen. The song I heard was so familiar and yet more infused with the experiences of life. When I let it sink in and rush over me I just about couldn’t believe it. Iris might even be better than I remembered.
Iris Dement: “Sing the Delta”
Here is the track listing for Sing the Delta which is due for an October 2 release via her own label FlariElla – named after her mother.
1. Go Ahead And Go Home
2. Before The Colors Fade
3. The Kingdom Has Already Come
4. The Night I Learned How Not To Pray
5. Sing The Delta
6. If That Ain’t Love
7. Livin’ On The Inside
8. Makin’ My Way Back Home
9. Mornin’ Glory
10. There’s A Whole Lotta Heaven
11. Mama Was Always Tellin’ Her Truth
12. Out Of The Fire
Sweet is the memory of first discovering Iris’ music but the anticipation of the new record has me hotter than Mojave in my heart. To catch up on all things Iris, including live dates in support of the new record, you can go to her official page here, or here Facebook page here.
Photos: Iris Dement Official Facebook