“Iris DeMent makes music that celebrates humanity’s efforts toward salvation, while acknowledging that most of our time on Earth is spent reconciling with the fact that we don’t feel so redeemed. Grounded in hymns, early country songs, gospel and folk, DeMent’s work is treasured by those who know it for its insight and unabashed beauty.” ~ NPR
From the New York Times – Iris DeMent emerged in the 1990s. And if you listened a lot to the New York City radio station WFUV back then, you could hear her voice every day, plaintive and joyous, lonely and quite unforgettable, singing tunes that felt brand new and many generations old.
Merle Haggard was a champion. He covered her song “No Time to Cry,” a deeply personal account of her father’s death, helped by the fortuitous ease of substituting “Merle” for “girl.”
Time and radio tastes went their way and so did Ms. DeMent. She did not release another album of her own songs until “Sing the Delta” in 2012. Now she is back again, as if returning from a distant country.
That country being, of all places, Russia. Ms. DeMent’s roots lie in Arkansas, California and Iowa. But she has a teenage daughter, adopted from Siberia, and she recently found a soul companion in the late Russian poet Anna Akhmatova.
Ms. DeMent’s new album, “The Trackless Woods,” sets Akhmatova’s poems to music. She said the project happened mysteriously. She was leafing through a book of Russian poems, and one of them, Akhmatova’s “Like a White Stone,” grabbed her and wouldn’t let go. Ms. DeMent, raised in the Pentecostal church, told me she grew up “primed to believe you can get spoken to or visited,” hearing messages from a deeper self, experiencing a quickening, a feeling, a thought that precedes thought. A voice told her that the poems should be songs, and the melodies flowed.
“The Trackless Woods” is the result, a gift to Ms. DeMent’s daughter. It’s lugubrious, keening and rejoicing all at once, as in this song, “Listening to Singing”:
A woman’s voice, like the wind, rushes –
Nocturnal, moist and black,
And as it flies, whatever it brushes,
It changes and it won’t change back.
New Yorkers who didn’t grow up listening to WFUV will have a chance to hear her, and special guest Pieta Brown, at Roy’s Hall on Saturday, September 29th. All tickets $35 in advance / $40 day-of-show.