Are you still ignoring Iris Dement?

The last live show I attended, shortly before the Pandemic closed everything down, was multi-Grammy nominee Iris Dement, at The Aladdin Theater in Portland, Oregon, a wonderful-sounding deco-style converted movie theater. It was my third time seeing Iris (the other two being at The Troubadour in West L.A.), and as before she was astonishing. Iris on stage alone, playing her grand piano and acoustic guitar, and singing like no one else on Earth. Sounds like hyperbole? Consider the following:

- Merle Haggard on Iris: "The best singer I’ve ever heard." Let that sink in for a moment. Merle recorded her incredible song "No Time To Cry" (found on her second album, My Life), but her original is imo far superior.

- Rolling Stone on her debut album, Infamous Angel: "An essential album of the 1990’s."

- The Guardian: "One of the finest singer-songwriters in America."

- The Boston Globe on her 2012 album, Sing The Delta: "A work of rare, unvarnished grace and power."

- David Byrne & Natalie Merchant performed Iris’ wonderful "Let The Mystery Be" as a duet on MTV Unplugged. Brave of Byrne, as he’s not much of a singer ;-) .

Iris of course caught the ear of many of her contemporaries, including John Prine (he and Iris recorded and toured together off-and-on), Emmylou Harris and Joan Osborne (seen and heard singing harmony with Iris in one of Dement’s many YouTube videos), and Steve Earle, all admirers of hers. She also attracts the best musicians, including the master dobro player Jerry Douglas.

And yet, Iris remains under the radar for most people, including, I have no doubt, many (perhaps most) here. Why? Sorry Iris, I can’t let the mystery be. ;-)

Iris is about the resume touring, so if you're interested check her website to see if she's coming to your area. For ya'll in Seattle, she'll be in town in September, I believe it is. @tomic601, you listening?! If she's not coming through Portland this time, I may just drive up to Seattle to again see and hear her. For those who choose to attend a show of her's, prepare to have your life changed. ;-)

bdp24, I've never really heard of Iris Dement, I used to listen to Emmylou Harris, Wylie and Willon (as they liked to be called at one time), but I never before heard of Iris.

I will correct that situation before the day is out.

I looked at her dates, and unfortunately, she won't be coming to AZ this year.
Candidly, I have heard her name but not her music. You mentioned some of my favorite performers: Natalie Merchant; David Byrne; Emmylou Harris, and Joan Osborne. I’ve written her name down and will look her up next time I’m in the record store. Your timing is good as I’ve been looking for some new artists to follow. Sorry to read that she won’t be coming to Arizona. If I'm looking for her albums, which ones would you recommend.
I've heard her on recordings with John Prine before but not on her own will check her out for sure.
Never have seen her in concert but did have tickets in hand for her here in Houston for March 19 2020 but that show was canceled due to the pandemic. I have loved her since first hearing her a few decades ago and have followed her every since. Just looked at her site and do not see that Houston is on her schedule but she is playing Dallas @ the Kessler Theater on November 19, 2021. Anybody familiar with the Kessler?
@tonykay, I would start with her second album, My Life. I took that album with me to the Winter CES in Vegas in the mid-90's, and had Jerry Crosby play it on his modified Quad 63 ESL's. I soon regretted it, as I was in tears before "No Time To Cry" ended. Oh the irony. ;-)
One thing I neglected to mention is the sense of humor Iris is in possession of---revealed in her live show, often of a self-deprecating nature.

When she opens her mouth, the music just pours out, effortlessly. I've never seen or heard anything like it, and I've seen a lot of greats live. And then there is her songwriting: in her genre, as good as it gets.
After I heard David Byrne and Natalie Merchant perform "Let The Mystery Be", I looked up the songwriter and then purchased Iris’ albums. A true unrecognized treasure. That performance is on "Few and Far Between" a cd extended play by 10,000 Maniacs.
The Way I Should is another fine record, esp, Wasteland of the Free, I'll Take my Sorrow Straight, and the sly duet with Delbert McClinton, Trouble.

I wonder if she really is underappreciated compared to other excellent female performers in the americana neighborhood who are not Emmylou-famous, like Shannon McNally, Elizabeth Cook, and Kelly Willis.

Although I like Dement, I do find myself listening to these others more, and I recommend them to fans of ID.

@jdoris: "Wasteland Of The Free" is fantastic! Iris received a lot of backlash for that blistering critique of the Neo-Cons pushing the Iraq war, and for painting the Conservative movement itself as hypocritical. That cost her some listeners amongst Evangelicals, who form(ed) a considerable portion of her audience (her lyrics deal with a lot of faith-related issues). At the second of her Troubadour shows I attended, the audience consisted of a large contingent of parents and their children, who sat reverentially through her entire set, not making a sound (except for enthusiastic applause at the end of each song). The "quietest" show I’ve ever attended!

Another under-acknowledged female singer-songwriter coming from a faith-based perspective is the wonderful Julie Miller, wife and musical partner of Buddy Miller---Emmylou Harris’ guitarist/harmony singer/bandleader. Buddy is also a fantastic solo artist and producer, running a recording studio out of the front parlor of he and Julie’s Nashville home. When Julie isn’t feeling well (she is somewhat "sickly"), Buddy runs a mic cable up the stairs and into their bedroom, recording Julie in bed. ;-)

A singer with a vocal style similar to Julie’s is Australian Kasey Chambers. Lots of good albums, including one she did with a real fine young artist some of you may be familiar with---Shane Nicholson. Love it! Kasey was raised in the Australian outback, her mother and father uprooting the family from the city and heading out in the wilderness. Papa Chambers spend the day hunting for food, and after dinner he taught the kids Hank Williams songs as they sat around a campfire. Kasey's first recordings were made as part of the family band---The Dead Ringer Band, and after she got her own record deal her father and brother played in her band! For you more shallow guys, Kasey is also pretty damn hot. ;-)

Heading across the tracks to Bluestown, who has heard Lou Ann Barton? A fantastic singer who came out of the Austin scene, originally the singer in a band whose guitarist was.....Stevie Ray Vaughan. Lou Ann’s excellent debut album was produced by the great Jerry Wexler (producer of Aretha’s Atlantic albums, Dylan’s trio of Christian albums, and lots, lots more). One of my all-time favorite albums! Lou Ann often tours as part of Jimmie Vaughan’s great road band.

There are a lot of artists bubbling below the surface, playing to either a cult-level or slightly larger audience. A lot of old guys I grew up with are living in the past, man. ;-) There is a LOT of great music being made, you just have to look for it.

"My Life" is the one I have written down. Thanks for putting me on to Iris Dement. Your original post reminds me of one of my favorite artists, Natalie Merchant. While I have seen her live several times, and have every record she has made (with and without 10,000 Maniacs), many younger listeners might say they have never even heard of her.
@tonykay: If you like My Life (WARNING! It is pretty hardcore purist Bluegrass), get her debut album Infamous Angel next. "Let The Mystery Be", "Our Town" (another tear-jerker), and "Mama’s Opry" are highlights, but every song is 1st-class.

For you musicians (and appreciators of same), look at the line-up on the album: Stuart Duncan on fiddle and mandolin, Al Perkins on dobro (Jerry Douglas on dobro on one song), Roy Husky Jr. on upright bass, and Emmylou on harmony vocals. Best in the business!

Iris’ third album is in some instances a departure for her. The aforementioned "Wasteland Of The Free" is pretty rockin’, with drums and everything. ;-) Fantastic, fantastic songs, including "When My Mornin’ Comes Around", "Walking Home", and "Trouble"---the duet with Delbert McClinton that JD mentioned.
Still not much vinyl. What is available is expensive.

Iris & Greg have a talented daughter as well, Pieta Brown.  Her "One & All" lp is very good musically and sonically.
Yeah @slaw, emerging in the 1990’s, almost all of her stuff is CD only. Craft Recordings or Analogue Productions should do an Iris boxset! The only LP I have is a promo-only white-label/white cover copy of The Way I Should, sent to radio station programmers. The album was produced by Randy Scruggs, son of Earl.

I was unaware of Pieta, so thanks for that! The Greg Steve refers to is Greg Brown, for those who don't know a singer-songwriter himself.
Iris and I are from the same small town in Arkansas.  When I was a youngster, her uncle (I think) was locally in/famous for his letters to the editor.  

I also spent time living in Iowa City, where I discovered Greg Brown, later to become her husband, who has recorded 4 or 5 of the best albums I've ever heard.  As underacknowledged as Iris is, she's easily the more recognized of the two (and that's probably just fine with Greg, especially now, at his age).  Both of them are treasures.

When they went back to that small town in Arkansas some years ago for her uncle's (I think) funeral, a friend of mine tweeted, "Two of the greatest singer/songwriters in America are in town right now, and nobody even knows who they are."  (I get credit for introducing him to the male half of that duo.)

Absolutely yes to Julie Miller!  Broken Things is a classic, and Blue Pony is good too.  I much prefer her stuff to husband Buddy, though he has contributed to a lot of good music.

Also -+1 to Kasey Chambers. "Nullabor Song" is an all time fav. tune.  I find myself listening a lot to her fine covers record, Storybook, but her newer efforts, Dragonfly and Campfire are really interesting and good.  QUESTION: Does anyone know where to find her cover of Son Volt's classic, "Tear Stained Eye"?

Back to American twang:

Pistol Annies, very good, sort of an americana superband.

And finally, Brandy Clark's 12 Stories is a bona fide masterpiece.
This just in!
Listening to The Marfa Tapes, released May 7 2021.
Jack Ingram/Miranda Lambert/Jon Randall.

Very fine, with a demo-y ambiance to the performance and recording that should please audiophile americana fans.

Lambert is in the Pistol Annies, and also has fine solo outings.  Don't know the others, but it's a strong collaboration.

Iris and Levon Helm, both from Arkansas, and both fave music makers of mine. Iris' family relocated to Orange County, California when she was still a child, but remained in the Pentecostal Church I believe.
Love Iris!!!! And Julie latest discovery is sort of a rediscovery...Frazey Ford......who was in the Be Good Tanyas.......just 3 months ago discovered her solo work......FANTASTIC....a little more blues and soulful than Iris or Julie.....and she is going on tour soon.( fall)
+1 to Frazey (who has a special version of One More Cup of Coffee somewhere), and the Be Goods.

Might as well get Po'Girl (Vagabond Lullabies) and the Wailin' Jennys (40 Days) on the list.
I had never heard of Iris DeMent until reading this thread.  I went to check some videos of her singing and can see the appeal — her voice and words carry a lot of emotion.  Like Kasey Chambers, she has a childlike voice that stirs something inside.  I suppose there are many good singers/songwriters that seldom or never get airplay and thus are seldom heard by the masses.  Now I need to go check out Frasey Ford!   Thank you for this thread and the information. 

P.S. I went to Iris’ website and at top there is a statement regarding “Stopping fascism”.  Clicking on that leads to a website that condemns Trump and all who supported him.   It seems like Iris is a bit too far-Left for my tastes.
I went to the record store on Friday and bought both "My Life" and "Infamous Angel" by Iris Dement. Her voice is sweet and her lyrics are sentimental. She reminds me of Emmylou Harris and Nanci Griffith. I like her sound and will just ignore her politics, like I do with most of the artists I admire.

Hard to know what to think abut artists whose music you like, but  with politics that grate.

At the other end from Iris is Hank Williams Jr.: lots of good tunes (and lots of less good ones), but not everyone is as keen on Sarah Palin as he is.

Maybe just ignore the interviews? :)

It's interesting how people of faith seem to veer either hard left or hard right. And both are so convinced they're correct.

I know one pretty good guitarist/pianist who is Libertarian, and interestingly has been a Scientologist since I first met him in 1969. Other than him, I don't think I've ever known another Conservative musician. Or a Scientologist one. ;-)

When Dylan went Christian John Lennon's head almost exploded.
She can definitely bring it:

Great thread mentioning many of my heros. Something about the singer songwriter that speaks to me 👍

Kris McKay did a wonderful cover of “Tear Stained Eye” back in the day (Bruce Robison & Kelly Willis on BGVs)
Maria McKee is sort of her generation’s Linda Ronstadt; she has a great set of pipes, and can really belt it out. I saw and heard her live when she was in Lone Justice, an L.A. band that was part of the "Cowpunk" scene in the 1980’s. Another band in that scene was The Long Ryders, whose drummer was married to Lucinda Williams during their heyday.

I mentioned this in another thread, but Maria’s older brother is Bryan Maclean of the 60’s group Love. Lone Justice’s drummer was Don Heffington, whose talents Buddy Miller employs from time to time.
I have, I think, four or five ID albums.  The first two or three are very good and I enjoy them immensely.  "Sing The Delta" is lame, imo.  Material-wise, I think she started to run out of gas after the third rekkid.  Love her voice and style, though.
As for her politics, while acknowledging her right to express her views on that or any subject, I think it is sometimes very unwise for artists to do so...unless they just don't care if they alienate a large chunk of their audience.
Thanks, boothroyd, both McKee and McKay are new to me, and in my wheelhouse -- definitely will do some listening!
McKay's cover of Tear Stained Eye, very nice -- threads the similar enough/different enough needle that makes for a good cover (fun topic in itself, btw).
Sorry if I hijacked! Not meant to take away from Iris Dement!! There is just so much good talent out there. Growing up in Houston as a frequent flyer to
I’ve been forever ruined. I think Steve Earl said it best 😉
I have heard of, but not heard Iris Dement.  Thank you for this poke--I will check her out.  I am new to streaming (yes, I just entered the 21st century with an Akurate Hub and Exactbox-i), so this is now possible.  Thanks again!
Iris Dement is wonderful. I have two of her albums and also have the first duets album with John Prine. Her duets with John stole the show on the In Spite of Ourselves album. I first heard of her many years ago on our local Pacifica Radio station KPFT. The only station that would play her music and a lot of other great musicians like Uncle Tupelo and the Jayhawks that I would have never heard any where else.
And speaking of Maria McKee and duets. Her duet with Steve Earle on Nothing But A Child on the Copperhead Road album is absolutely fantastic. My favorite song on the album and I’m a huge Steve Earle fan. Saw him in a small venue right after he was released from prison with just him and another guy who’s name I don’t remember on acoustic guitars. Great show.
Love Maria’s Lone Justice album also.
She's indeed a "great singer" in terms of conveying emotion there are other Country-ish singers who have far superior technique AND the ability to pierce you through the heart... 

Personally, I find her tunes a bit on the maudlin side. . . and I'm most definitely not someone who avoids "sad songs".   

I guess this puts me in the "ignoring" camp. . . 
Meant to type:

She's indeed a "great singer" in terms of conveying emotion BUT there are other Country-ish singers who have far superior technique AND the ability to pierce you through the heart...

I have enjoyed her music for years and finally saw on the " Sing The Delta " Tour at The Ironhorse in Northhampton. It was a great show and I love the album and her piano playing, she really has a nice style and is heavy on the keys. She also had  John Graboff, from The Cardinals , playing pedal steel in her touring  band.

I  wore my Cold Roses t-short that night and John appreciated that one. I met Iris after the show and she was very down to  Earth.
Cool @idigmusic64, I haven't had that pleasure. In her shows she reveals her unusually witty personality, sometimes in a self-deprecating manner. Kind of a female Randy Newman. ;-)