By Hal Horowitz
Iris DeMent is fiery, energized, angry and invigorated on this long-awaited return.
When Iris DeMent released her stunning debut in 1992, it was clear that she was an old soul. Perhaps that’s what attracted her to John Prine (a supporter and frequent duet partner) whose own early work displayed a similarly aged, mature wisdom far beyond his years.
Yet, after three timeless country/folk inflected records (two Grammy nominated) that introduced her warbling, rural-styled vocals to the world, she seemed to fall off the map.
Now, marking her first set of originals in over a decade, DeMent’s new album Workin’ on a World is set to release via Flariella Records – and it was sure worth the wait.
DeMent’s stunning voice - somewhere between pre-stardom Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris and Canadian folkies Kate and Anna McGarrigle - sounds exactly as you remember it. She has always been concerned with socio-political issues, as well as more personal ones, and both topics create the template for these 13 songs.
The opening title track defines the tone which, with a full band and even occasional horns, is more robust and folk-rock oriented than most might have expected. Here she expresses the hope to experience some of the positive social changes she seeks before she dies. “I’m working on a world I may never see” she sings, understanding that’s what those who came before her did.
DeMent rails against the proliferation of guns in ‘Goin’ Down to Sing in Texas’ while praising The Chicks by name for taking a stand against the establishment, all over a jaunty, happy backing.
Gospel leanings appear in the ballad ‘Let Me Be Your Jesus’, a takedown of phonies who pretend to be religiously inspired, and especially in a love letter to gospel legend Mahalia Jackson on the appropriately titled ‘Mahalia’. She breaks the tone down to her own stark piano for the trilling, sensitive ‘The Cherry Orchard’ but returns to full country setting complete with countrypolitan horns and pedal steel for the following ‘Nothing for the Dead’.
Guest Marty Stuart’s mandolin is featured on the strutting, bluesy cover of Greg Brown’s ‘Walkin’ Daddy’. DeMent name checks Martin Luther King in the churchy ‘How Long’, another tune concerning the time it takes for social change to occur.
Regardless of the often strident lyrics, these songs flow like spring water. They are driven by DeMent’s uniquely quivering, emotional voice that reflects the wisdom of her years with the clarity and grace she exhibited on her earliest recordings.
She’s fiery, energized, angry and invigorated on this long-awaited return. Hopefully her next project materializes more quickly.
Workin' on a World is out on Friday 24th February via Flariella Records. You can purchase the record from one of Holler's selected partners below: