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The utter trashing of country music at the hands of pop schlock over the past few years has made it difficult to even think about the music without getting a headache. The only relief is a recent spate of honest and unassuming, if zero-selling, artists of vastly different styles for whom the rubric "new country" is more a default setting than anything descriptive. Latest submission: a yearning singer/songwriter named Iris DeMent. DeMent has a voice with the antique crackle of June Carter Cash, and a New Depression background that gives her credibility: her family, led by a factory-worker father, left their rural Arkansas home after the workers "went on strike, and never got a union." She plays up little of this in her songs, but hints like the image of the sun setting on "Our Town" pack powerful punches. Her first album, Infamous Angel, is almost unrelievedly gorgeous; her exquisite voice sails over songs of heartbreak, youth, and family set against the most restrained musical touches. It's worth checking out just to hear the leadoff "Let the Mystery Be," a remarkable statement of calm and guilt-free agnosticism. DeMent plays a solo acoustic show in Jam's ongoing new-country showcase series, put on in uncommon comfort at Schubas: the show starts promptly without an opening act, and attendance is limited to give most folks a seat. What a radical idea. Saturday, 9 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport; 525-2508.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/James Fraher.

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