When: Sat., Feb. 9, 8 & 10:30 p.m. 2013
In the 90s Iris DeMent released three albums that established her as one of America’s best singer-songwriters—her singular voice combines the raw directness of old-timey music with the homespun phrasing of honky-tonk, which gives her thick drawl a spine-tingling presence. DeMent put out a terrific collection of traditional gospel songs called Lifeline in 2004, but when she released Sing the Delta (Flariella) last fall it was her first album of original material in 16 long years. As on her previous album of originals, The Way I Should, she enlists a full band for the arrangements, but this time she reaches beyond country and folk to include gospel and southern soul. Fortunately her singing and writing are as remarkable as ever—she can combine tenderness and empathy with skepticism and unsentimentality, and despite (or because of) her religious upbringing, she expresses doubt with great sensitivity. In “The Night I Learned How Not to Pray” she tells the story of the desperate prayers that failed to save the life of her young brother when he hurt himself in a fall, delivering vivid conversational observations such as “And I knew it was over when my sister slammed that phone against the wall.” In “There’s a Whole Lotta Heaven” she pushes aside preoccupations with the afterlife in favor of the beauty of the here and now, with all its ups and downs. On “Livin’ on the Inside” she confronts depression head-on, describing an internal struggle that has her feeling trapped and helpless. And on “If That Ain’t Love” she sings about pulling her car over on the side of the road to listen to an Aretha Franklin song, then affectionately compares her father’s dedication to his job at a wax museum (“He was the guy who kept the cobwebs off Sophia Loren”) to his devotion to God. —Peter Margasak Jason Wilber opens the early show.