Iris DeMent: Workin’ on a World Album Review

working in a world it’s like a parade on a stormy day, a celebration under increasingly ominous skies. Lyrical references to gun violence and police brutality place their stories in a modern context, along with a litany of proper names ranging from Chicks and Mahalia Jackson to John Lewis and Rachel Corrie. But Iris DeMent also works to ground her writing in timeless ways, with songs that sound like popular standards and gospel ballads, populated with characters from the Bible and old American idioms. “I’m not trying to impress anyone with my clever new metaphor,” the 62-year-old composer said recently. Paste. “I’m trying to talk to people emotionally and spiritually, what if something that’s been used before works? I’m not going to let my ego get in the way of letting it work again, if it says what I needed it to say.”

For her first collection of original material in over a decade, the country music songwriter slowly amassed material with no overarching structure in mind. Inspiration came from all directions: “Goin’ Down to Sing in Texas” is an eight-minute protest song written after she performed at a venue in Austin where a sign on the door instructed attendees on how to drive. their firearms during the presentation. A piano ballad featuring the most impressive vocal delivery in her extensive catalogue, “The Cherry Orchard” delves into the psychology of a character from Chekhov’s play of the same name. “Let Me Be Your Jesus” is a poem written by her husband, Greg Brown, which she delivers in a devilish whisper, audibly enjoying setting her words to music.

It was Brown’s daughter, Pieta Brown, the folk songwriter who co-produced the album with Richard Bennett and Jim Rooney, who spurred DeMent to follow her muse wherever she led. Spacious, welcoming and resplendent with urgency, his new album collects six years of work but plays like a constantly flowing vision. “Nothin’ for the Dead” seems to speak to DeMent’s current process, capturing his ethos in four distinct verses: one about a tree in the snow, another about the dynamic between two young parents and their screaming son, the next about brutality. of the world, and the last one about leaving a mark during our brief time here. “Use me while I live, Lord,” he sings with intensity. “Leave nothing for the dead.” A section of horns and pedal steel meander restlessly around his words with almost comic persistence, suggesting that the mayhem and carnage will continue; it is only our perspective that will change.

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As always, DeMent’s writing is generous and quotable, showing the lingering effects of a childhood spent reading the Bible. It also furthers the literary influence that informed its previous release, 2015. The forest without tracks, which set new arrangements to the poetry of the Russian writer Anna Akhmatova. But the performances are also among the liveliest and most dynamic in their catalogue, ranging from the Mark Knopfler-esque full-band riffing of “The Sacred Now” to softer tunes like “The Cherry Orchard” and “I Won’ t Ask You Why,” led by DeMent’s piano, an instrument he wields as elegantly as his writing. (Note how on “Say a Good Word,” space is given to sing the word “magnanimity,” adding a sense of musicality with a light, rhythmic touch in a major seventh chord).

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