Iris DeMent's debut, Infamous Angel, released on Philo two years ago, combined country and western verities with a healthy agnosticism: here was an authentically "new country" star whose antique approach to the music reassured those who distrusted some of the more psychedelic aspects of the new wave. At the same time, her debut demonstrated with devastating directness one of new country's givens: that the contemporary country one hears on the radio, for all its trumpeting of tradition, is a mess of contrivance and froth and contemptuous of the true roots of the music. Her follow-up, My Life, is a provocatively imagined, movingly presented major work by an artist of heroic talent and ambitions. If I might state its thesis with a crudity DeMent wouldn't countenance, I'd put it like this: although the past is largely a mess of silly superstitions, people can draw strength from the stories of their predecessors; however, self-conscious modernity and sophistication is its own trap, with its own superstitions and limitations, among them an inability to understand the past; and in the grips of this contradiction, one despairs of finding any peace other than the fleeting sort found in the presence of lovers, friends, and family. Again, those are mostly my words, not DeMent's: the actual songs are about other things--burying your father and flying away to a show, wanting better sex, and shaking your booty down by the River Jordan. Her shows combine her antediluvian soprano and unapologetic folksiness with a fierce intelligence and unexpected charisma; together, they're well worth the trip to FitzGerald's. Wednesday, 9 PM, FitzGerald's, 6615 Roosevelt, Berwyn; 708-788-2118.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Mar Tucker.