Two songs into her show Saturday night at Knuckleheads, Iris DeMent put down her guitar, took a seat at the piano, leaned into the microphone and deadpanned, as if surprised by the turnout, What are you all doing here?
By TIMOTHY FINN
The Kansas City Star
She was speaking to the 250-plus fans who filled every seat in the room and had been giving her their rapt attentions for her first two songs, The Way I Should, the title track from her third album, then Let the Mystery Be, the opening track from her debut, Infamous Angel.
Her third song, Makin My Way Back Home, was one from her latest album, Sing the Delta, and it suited the evening. Throughout the 1990s, DeMent made Kansas City her full-time home. Thus, the warm greeting from a crowd that included family and friends.
DeMent and her solid four-piece band gave the audience more than 100 minutes of songs, many of them from Delta, her first album of original material since 1996s The Way I Should. Delta is a meditative collection of laments, ballads and hymns about faith, mortality, love and loss. DeMent would perform eight of its 12 songs, including Mama Was Always Tellin Her Truth, an ode to her mother, a Pentecostalist who used her faith to get through hard times; the title track; and Mornin Glory, a tribute to beauty in nature.
DeMent delivered several covers. Two were among the shows many highlights. The first was the very countrified Walkin Daddy, written by her husband, Greg Brown. Another was Faller, written by Browns daughter, Pieta Brown. DeMent also covered Jesse Winchesters Thats What Makes You Strong and Merle Haggards Big City.
They all meshed nicely with her own material, much of which was given heavy country accents, thanks to Jon Graboffs mandolin and pedal steel and the high, lonesome twang in DeMents voice. She turns 52 in January, yet her voice has lost little of its register. She still sounds of the hills of her native Arkansas.
That voice suited her other cover of the night, a version of Dont Leave the Leavin Up to Me. (Before she sang that, she cited the version by Leona Williams, one of Haggards ex-wives.)
DeMent sang He Reached Down, a song from Lifeline, a collection of gospel songs she released in 2004. And she sang one called White Stone, which was inspired by a work by the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova. From a big crowd that showed DeMent much respect and love, there were a few calls for Wasteland of the Free, a political anthem from The Way I Should, but she apparently wasnt in the mood for politics.
Instead, she gave them more from Delta, including Go On Ahead and Go Home and then Theres a Whole Lotta Heaven, a song about finding redemption and salvation here on Earth. Ive been saved by the love of the people livin right here, she sang. It feels safe to assume that the feeling in the room was mutual.
The Way I Should; Let the Mystery Be; Makin My Way Back Home; Before the Colors Fade; Mama Was Always Tellin Her Truth; Sing the Delta; Like a White Stone; Walkin Daddy (Greg Brown cover); Faller (Pieta Brown cover); The Night I Learned How Not to Pray; Dont Leave the Leaving Up to Me; He Reached Down; Mornin Glory; Thats What Makes You Strong (Jesse Winchester cover); The Kingdom Has Already Come; Out of the Fire; Go On Ahead and Go Home. Encore: Big City (Merle Haggard cover); Theres a Whole Lotta Heaven.