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Iris DeMent at Highline Ballroom August 22nd, 2009: Songs Of Family and Faith

The penultimate song of Iris Dement’s two hour concert at the Highline last night found the country singer-songwriter last night dedicating “My Life” to her daughter somewhere among the enraptured audience. The song was used at the end of the wonderful independent movie “Mr. Lonely” where a Michael Jackson impersonator, after falling in love with a Marilyn Monroe impersonator, goes to a private island for professional Chaplins and Clark Gables, watches the Monroe die, returns to Paris, and grief stricken looks at old picutres while “My Life” plays on the soundtrack.

Well, of course it does. The Arkansan singer aches with feeling and she would bring real humanity to a reading of the terms of her credit card, and on her deeply felt, very pretty, and enormously sad country material like “My Life” the audience is made to feel the most personal connection imaginable. Alone on stage wearing a long blue dress with white polka dots and no make up I can discern, she plays half the set on acoustic guitar and half on piano and it might as well be in her parlor as her hits, near hits and misses: mid-tempo, lost love, lost family, and songs of faith add up to a reflection of a a perfect and gifted woman.

Iris plays her most famous song “Let The Mystery Be” -a wise Christian spiritual that more people should adhere to, early, later at the piano she covers Merle Haggard’s “Pray”and does very well by it, spotted throughout the concert are songs of personal faith but that’s the operative word with DeMent and with her Christianity: they are subjective testaments to faith in a life lived, perhaps she should proselytizesome but she doesn’t proselytize and I am sure converts more people to her faith..

Yeah, simple is simple and plain is plain, and Iris plays simple but strong country songs and, for the most, Iris songs are slow ballads and unadorned by anything but her guitar and later a piano, it can become a bit samy. That’s me being a rock critic, trying to be even handed when I don’t feel even handed: however many times she ruminates on her parents, broken romances, or the small towns she comes from, even her most typical of her songs have that coal mine dusted voice of hers so unmistakable and earnest. And never more so than on “My Town” -played at the half way mark, it is what we come to Dement for: “Now I sit on the porch and watch the lightning-bugs fly. But I can’t see too good, I got tears in my eyes. I’m leaving tomorrow but I don’t wanna go. I love you, my town, you’ll always live in my soul” and this is AFTER she went to visit her Mama and Papa’s grave. Red meat for the heart if you ask me. A little later “No Time To cry” from her great 93 album My Life cut us up as she worked the difficult song construction. I would pay cash money to hear that song with violins and back up singers.

Still if there is an ego to Iris DeMent’s performance it is subsumed n professionalism, and along with the dignity of her performances there are burst of high spirits: all through the second off her soft touch on the piano plays chords to the exclusion of all else but towards she bounces on a honky tonk riff and comes off like the piano player in a bar during a John Wayne Western and soon after she blows off the dust with a rousing “Whole Lotta Heaven” shining in this river. A national treasure, this woman is. Say Amen Somebody.

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