Iris DeMent's voice has mellowed in the 20 years since her gorgeous debut, Infamous Angel, but it remains a wonder of genuine country music, with a vibrato-infused twang that purrs and bucks. Centered mainly on piano chords that conjure family rooms and little white churches, these artisanal songs of love and doubt wear their homeliness proudly; the effect is like finding a bountiful farm stand in the middle of nowhere. Listen to Sing the Delta .
In one of the critical lines from Sing the Delta, Iris Dement sings, “When it all goes dark and I start losing vision…I gotta go back to telling my truth. ” It’s a sentiment that she tucks away in one of the later verses of “Mama Was Always Telling Her Truth,” a heartfelt tribute to her mother, and it’s indicative of what makes DeMent such a distinctive and deeply empathetic songwriter. Her songs, whether they draw from her relationships with her tight-knit family or recount her struggles with matters of faith, are an unobstructed reflection of her personal truths.
Back in the 1990s, Iris DeMent was rightly considered to be one of the finest singer-songwriters in America. She wrote heart-tugging, country-tinged ballads such as Our Town, and ranked alongside the McGarrigles for her blend of emotion and melody. This is her first album of new material in 16 years, but it sounds as powerful and timeless as anything she has done.
IRIS DEMENT plays Hugh's Room Saturday and Sunday (October 20 and 21). See listing. Rating: NNNN Sing The Delta is acclaimed country and folk singer Iris DeMent's first album of new material in 16 years. Religion remains a dominant theme, but these are personal, contemporary story songs that centre on DeMent's signature plain delivery, the gospel-soul horn arrangements and the occasional wailed vocal (as on the title track, a love song to the Delta).
“Let the Mystery Be”, the first song on Iris DeMent’s 1992 debut album Infamous Angel, is one of the more enduring songs about questioning religious doctrine on life and death, expressing a preference for the unknown versus the concrete answers that religions purport to have. Twenty years later, DeMent’s fifth album Sing the Delta tackles similar questions head-on, with a similar capacity for acute skepticism, but with a twist: the music is steeped in the sounds of the church, not far removed musically from her fourth album, 2004’s Lifeline, a covers collection of traditional Protestant hymns. Take the third song “The Kingdom Has Already Come”, for example.
Iris DeMent isn't a pop star, although she probably could have been had she been at all interested in playing that game. She's a careful, detailed songwriter with a confessional edge and a good sense of narrative, and her voice is a marvelous instrument that seems to rise out of the previous century. Her themes are universal -- love (both good and bad), loss, faith, memories -- and few singers or songwriters can convey the kind of passionate emotional distance she brings to all of this.
Iris DeMentSing The Delta(Flariella)3.5 stars out of 5 As the Americana movement that she helped to initiate back in the early-to-mid 90’s took off in popularity, Iris DeMent for the most part watched from the sidelines. In the past sixteen years, the only album she released was 2004’s Lifeline, a gospel record with no originals. That hiatus is over, thankfully, as DeMent returns with both her vocal and songwriting acumen intact on Sing The Delta.