Iris DeMent
by Johanna J. Bodde


IRIS DEMENT  "Lifeline" (Flariella Records)

Iris DeMent is the youngest of fourteen (!) children. She was born in Paragould, a town in the Missouri-delta of Arkansas. A desperately poor area and finally, when even the farm didn't bring in enough to survive, the family moved to California. Sometimes life got too much for the mother of Iris and then she would go over to the piano and sing an old religious song, from which she obviously drew strength. So when Iris called her during a tour, in tears because she was having a hard time, mother's immediate response was: "Well, Iris! You gotta get to a pe-yan-a!" That was the "lifeline" Iris named her fourth album (after a silence of eight years) after.

It is filled with thirteen countrygospels, sung with the right soul input by Iris, whose characteristic voice is perfect for this traditional music! The accompaniment is spare, one or two guitars, an upright bass, a dobro, here & there harmony singing by gentlemen like Stuart Duncan, Pat Enright, Alan O'Bryant (The Nashville Bluegrass Band) and Barry Tashian. Sometimes there's only Iris playing the piano, like in that beautiful "God Walks The Dark Hills". She wrote the song "He Reached Down" herself, in the same tradition as these hymns, sometimes going back as far as 1867 and 1845. Even the lay-out, with pictures from the fifties of a shared meal in the frontyard of a small church, fits very well in the whole project. I wouldn't recommend this album to people who, often with some difficulty, shed their religious feathers... But Iris makes her statement with integrity here and that definitely leaves an impression.
Written by Johanna J. Bodde, Dutch original of this review previously published on Real Roots Cafe, The Netherlands.