Saturday, October 10, 2009

A Modern Voice With an Ancient Sound

Category: 50 Songs to Hear

SONG: Our Town
ARTIST: Iris DeMent
ALBUM: Infamous Angel
YEAR/LABEL: 1992; Warner Brothers

The reason I love music so much is it's the one place I can go to in life when stuff happens.
(Iris DeMent)

One of the saddest things about modern country music is there are no VOICES. There are lots of supposed "singers" (many of whom qualify more as screamers than singers), but a voice that grabs the listener and refuses to let go the way someone like Patsy Cline or Jim Reeves had is simply not out there. When such a voice comes along the fact that they do not gain superstar status while the aforementioned supposed singers become household names can make you shrug your shoulders and agree that there really has been an awful murder on Music Row -- and the gunshot left everyone deaf.

The voice that should be in everyone's home and heart belongs to Iris DeMent. The lady has a marvelous voice that is plain, earthy, unpretentious, and gets to the heart of every word she sings. Conviction emits from every syllable uttered by this woman, and one of the best examples of that is the song "Our Town."

This song, which was used at the conclusion of the television series Northern Exposure, depicts life in a small town -- the good and the bad. The notion of trying to leave for the big city, the dream of many a one-horse town citizen, comes through with bittersweet conviction. The grass might be greener, but mom and dad are buried "up the street beside the pretty brick wall." She is leaving because the town is as dead as the deceased parents. It's a hard fact to face, but reality has her at the point where "I can't see too good, I've got tears in my eyes." Her farewell message: "I love you, my town, you'll always live in my soul."

DeMent has a sporadic recording history (her most recent album came out in 2004), which has made it easy for those who have heard of her to shove her to the back of their minds. If she never releases another album she has already contributed enough to American country and folk music to be hailed as one of the greatest -- simply by her exceptional voice.


The entire Infamous Angel album
-- an album for the ages with lovely songs ranging from trying to understand death ("Let the Mystery Be") to one of the greatest tributes to one's mother ever recorded ("Mama's Opry"). If there were any justice in this world, this would be one of the biggest-selling albums in history.

"In Spite of Ourselves" (duet with John Prine, from Prine's In Spite of Ourselves) -- Prine is one of DeMent's biggest fans and he never passes up the chance to give her more exposure (he has recorded a number of duets with her). This Prine composition about love serves as one of their best.

1 comment:

Donna said...

I love me some Iris! You can hear the Arkansas hills in her voice.