Sweet is the melody, indeed
January 5, 2014 3:56 AM   Subscribe

Today is Iris DeMent's birthday, and I've been listening to some tunes by this delightfully idiosyncratic singer and songwriter, whose sound harkens back to an earlier era of American music. I thought some of you might enjoy hearing them today as well. Here's Out of the Fire, God May Forgive You (But I Won't), He's Not You, Easy's Gettin' Harder Every Day, Sweet is the Melody, Let the Mystery Be, Our Town (featuring harmony vocal from the wonderful Emmylou Harris), He Reached Down (with Joan Osborne and Bruce Molsky), and finally, here's Iris dueting with John Prine on his hilarious number In Spite of Ourselves.
posted by flapjax at midnite (30 comments total) 52 users marked this as a favorite
Thanks for this post - I love me a bit of Iris. Easy's Getting Harder Every Day is pretty much my go-to for "listening when depressed and wanting to feel like someone gets it" (which is a compliment).

I saw her playing in Scotland a couple of years ago. I don't think she plays abroad very often these days and was crying with homesickness at some points during the performance.

She also mentioned that she wrote "Let the mystery be" with the aim of creating something a little more upbeat - but then someone wrote to her asking if it was OK to have it played at his funeral!

Oh dear, this all makes her sound really morose, doesn't it?

Happy birthday, Iris - thanks for being you!
posted by penguin pie at 4:37 AM on January 5, 2014

It's just incredible how easy those superb backup musicians make this all sound. Add some Emmylou Harris and my day is complete. Thank you!
posted by halfbuckaroo at 5:11 AM on January 5, 2014

Such a wonderful voice.
posted by octothorpe at 5:13 AM on January 5, 2014

Here's my favourite - No Time To Cry Thanks for reminding us how great she can be.
posted by Wrick at 5:14 AM on January 5, 2014

Iris DeMent and Steve Earle, with the Del McCoury Band: "I'm Still in Love With You." flapjax -- thank you! She is wonderful.
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:15 AM on January 5, 2014

It's just incredible how easy those superb backup musicians make this all sound.

Yeah, there's some mighty fine players on some of these clips. I noticed one of the clips has Irish musician Donal Lunny in the band: he's a gentleman I had the pleasure of working with a little bit, here in Japan, about 17 years ago. I was doing some recording with a Japanese group called Soul Flower Union, and they brought in Lunny to produce and play on some tunes. He's really superb, and a wonderful guy, too.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:17 AM on January 5, 2014

What about God walks the dark hills? Also a favorite. And I don't want to get adjusted (to this world)?"?
posted by willF at 5:18 AM on January 5, 2014

Damn, she's good. The first time I heard of her was when Oxford American put Sweet is the Melody on one of the music issue CDs. I got chills as soon as she started singing.
posted by Maecenas at 5:20 AM on January 5, 2014

Oh! I know "Let The Mystery Be" - only I heard it via a cover version.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:52 AM on January 5, 2014

When I first moved to NYC in the mid 90's, I had my clock radio set to WFUV. One day I heard Our Town as I was waking up and had to use that computer in the back of Tower records to figure out who the singer was. Until I actually played the album, I wasn't sure that I hadn't dreamed the whole thing.
posted by Drab_Parts at 6:23 AM on January 5, 2014

My local community radio station (disclosure: I occasionally volunteer there) had it's funding cut in 1997 by a state senator because he objected to the insinuation in the song Wasteland Of The Free that politicians might be taking corporate bribes. Well, not so much an insinuation as a direct statement.

Listening to it right now, I guess nothing much has changed.
posted by lordrunningclam at 7:25 AM on January 5, 2014

Also interesting that she recently put out a new album 16 years after the last one of original songs and it's just as good as the previous ones.
posted by texorama at 7:29 AM on January 5, 2014

I got into her through "Wasteland of the Free," the all-too-rare angry liberal country song. Sounds like she needs to update the line about "CEOs making 200 times the workers' pay," though. Other than that, the song is more relevant than ever.
posted by entropicamericana at 7:36 AM on January 5, 2014

That John Prine one is from Sessions at West 54th... would would make a GREAT FPP.
posted by DigDoug at 7:55 AM on January 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

She's got a great voice but she's also a terrific songwriter. Here's Joel RL Phelps doing My Life, which I've never heard a bad version of.
posted by dobbs at 8:00 AM on January 5, 2014

You guys have mentioned so many of her wonderful songs. Another of my favorites is The Way I Should.
posted by Why We Are ... at 8:32 AM on January 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

"In Spite Of Ourselves" was the second song we played after getting married at the courthouse. (First up was "Marry Me" by Drive-By Truckers).
posted by BitterOldPunk at 9:04 AM on January 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

"In Spite Of Ourselves" was the second song we played after getting married at the courthouse.

"In Spite Of Ourselves" and "We're Not the Jet Set" both played at our reception. My mother was appalled, with two l's, but I loved it.
posted by MonkeyToes at 9:11 AM on January 5, 2014 [5 favorites]

One of my favorites - The Train Carrying Jimmie Rodgers Home, written by her husband Greg Brown.

Also agreeing that her duets with John Prine on Sessions at West 54th are classic.
posted by ralan at 9:28 AM on January 5, 2014

Iris DeMent is a treasure. When I'm feeling down I put her on the stereo and suddenly the world's a little less shitty.
posted by Doleful Creature at 9:37 AM on January 5, 2014

Her rendition of the hymn Leaning on the Everlasting Arms (used to great effect in True Grit [2012]) is something else.
posted by Gin and Comics at 9:54 AM on January 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Love her voice...thanks for the link...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 10:11 AM on January 5, 2014

I had never heard of her; thank you for this introduction. "Our Town" just brought real tears to my eye and I have no idea why. Going to listen to the rest now.
posted by evilmomlady at 10:19 AM on January 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

Thanks, this is a good day for these links.

I had the chance to see her play solo in a tiny venue in Portland, Maine a few years back and I really treasure the memory.
posted by selfnoise at 10:33 AM on January 5, 2014

Thanks so much for this. I've never heard of her (I'm not in the US, she's passed me by) but I love American folk and country music and her voice is just beautiful. Haven't got further than Out of the Fire because the last verse has wrecked me a little, but in the near future I imagine I'll be working my way through everything she's ever done. Cheers!
posted by billiebee at 3:40 PM on January 5, 2014

I'm Walking Home, which almost always makes me tear up
posted by Auden at 3:53 PM on January 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

In Spite of Ourselves was my father's favorite song.

There's a hilarious video that I can't find when they performed together years ago. At the end of the song, she is just staring at him and he wiggles his guitar at her seductively. It is so awkward and creepy and perfect.
posted by jefficator at 9:20 AM on January 6, 2014

Iris DeMent's voice is the cudgel with which you can bludgeon your indie friends into the wonderful world of country music.

posted by BitterOldPunk at 7:40 PM on January 6, 2014 [3 favorites]

So I just realized that she's only been recording for about twenty years. Somehow my brain was convinced that she's been around forever and that I've known Let The Mystery Be and My Town for most of my life. Her songs just sound like they came out of some eternal well of music.
posted by octothorpe at 7:50 PM on January 6, 2014

Our Town was the song played over the final scenes of the last episode of Northern Exposure. Boy, did I cry. Then looked her up and bought the album.
posted by Occula at 11:00 PM on January 25, 2014

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