By Charles R. Cross
The Triple Door
Saturday, March 23, 2013
Halfway through her sold-out performance Saturday night at the Triple Door, Iris DeMent acknowledged what any long time fan of hers already knew. "I finally got a new record out," she said. "Finally some songs came through the door, and I was spared the new job hunt."
It was one of many comical things DeMent said onstage Saturday, but like most humor, there was a ring of truth to it. In the 22 years since her 1992 debut, Dement released only three original albums. All have been worth the wait. Last year's Sing the Deltais her most solid, even if it came out sixteen years after its predecessor. She sampled heavily from the new one, but also included a few covers by Jimmie Rodgers and Merle Haggard, in a generous set that went on for two hours.
Haggard once called DeMent "the best singer I ever heard," and that unique and powerful voice was in fine form Saturday. Hers is a thin, reedy vocal, which sounds straight out of the backwoods, but it is perfect for plaintive country, particularly on the new song "Morning Glory." She spent more than half the show at the Triple Door's grand piano, and joked that it was more piano than she needed. She talked about how Aretha Franklin was an influence, and you heard that soulful streak in "Sing the Delta."
DeMent said she and musician-husband Greg Brown always compare notes about the food available on the road, and that they both loved the Triple Door. "He's at home being daddy, now," she explained, "and I'm up here, wearing, well, wearing this... dress." It was typical of DeMent's music -- a simple line with back-story. It was clear the dress is a persona DeMent isn't completely comfortable with. Her three-piece band seemed to help keep her from darting from the stage, though, and they provided able but subtle backing.
DeMent never seems completely at home onstage, or anywhere, and that searching and yearning is evident in her songs. Her onstage humor is in contrast to the devastating sadness of much of her material, songs about loss, death, disconnection, searching, and heartbreak. Even "Our Town," which she used to close the show, has darkness underneath the upbeat melody.
But maybe that darkness is DeMent's greatest gift. The only song she didn't introduce or joke about was "My Life," the title track from her 1994 album, but no introduction was needed, and it was a devastating performance. "My life," she sang, "it's half the way travelled, and still I have not found my way out of this night."
That pure, unadulterated songwriting is why even with 16-year waits between albums, DeMent's fans stay with her. There is much pain in life, but on that journey, Iris DeMent's music makes it seem less so. "I can make it seem better for a while," she sang in the chorus of "My Life."
And on Saturday night at the Triple Door, she did.