By JOHN DEMETRY
During the last decade, Iris DeMent’s New York concerts featured an expanding repertoire of new folk songs uncannily attuned to the needs of the audience. This fall, she releases many of these songs on the studio album Sing the Delta.
Earlier in the decade, DeMent expressed the sublimation of post-9/11 anxiety (“Livin’ on the Inside”) while affirming folk verities for a society unmoored (“Mama Was Always Tellin’ Her Truth”). Later, she addressed the spiritual confusion of a divided culture (“The Night I Learned How Not to Pray”). Finally, DeMent countered the resulting puritanism and materialism (“There’s a Whole Lotta Heaven”). Alone onstage, she turned away—and inward—from Bush/Obama-era cynicism (“Mornin’ Glory”).
For the full-band sound of Sing the Delta, DeMent infuses Delta blues into her signature Appalachian folk sound. Demonstrated by the single “Go On Ahead and Go Home,” DeMent returns to the foundation of our shared culture to attest to our shared humanity. “Go let your mama see you smile”—the darnedest idea of heaven since Steven Spielberg’s A.I.—Artificial Intelligence (2001). As DeMent sings on the title track, “It’s a language my spirit understands.”
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