Thursday, June 30, 2011
I discovered Iris DeMent completely by accident a while back while noodling around Last.FM looking for other stuff. I had been on sort of a female folky/Americana/Alt-Indie Country kick and was listening to stuff by the likes of Patty Griffin, Lucinda Williams, Neko Case, etc, when I stumbled across her song "Easy's Gettin' Harder Every Day." The hopelessness of the lyrics and the tired sadness of her voice just blew me away (unfortunately it's not on YouTube).
I had never heard of Iris DeMent, but interestingly enough - even though I was quite the fan back in the day - she first gained widespread notice when her song "Our Town" was played in the closing scenes and credits of Northern Exposure during that show's final episode. Here's a cool version of that song with backing vocals from Emmylou Harris, or, as I like to call her, the hottest gray-haired woman in the world.
Her music must strike some note of bittersweet finality, because more recently another of DeMent's songs, her version of the hymm "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms" was featured in the closing credits of the Coen Brothers' adaptation of "True Grit." Beautiful stuff, almost enough to make this secular heathen go find himself a god(s).
I wouldn't say DeMent has a classically beautiful voice. It is, admittedly, something of an acquired taste. Some may find it too twangy, a bit nasally, just a little too backwoods Pentacostal-sounding, but having come from exactly that kind of peasant hillbilly stock, I love it. I think it sounds like distilled heartbreak, a sine wave of working class hope and despair, the kind of music populated by Joe Bageant's (and my) people. Good stuff.
I'm still poking around her body of work, but here's one of my favorites so far...
And if you're a Talking Heads fan (as I am) you might like David Byrne's (and Natalie Merchant's) cover.