It's enough of a surprise that twangy neo-trad country/folkie Iris DeMent sometimes rocks. (Check the nastily sizzling "Trouble" sung with Delbert McClinton.) But this disc's real revelation is the way she goes beyond touching, plainspoken ballads like "I'll Take My Sorrow Straight" to lash out at America's decline. A true believer in God, country, and motherhood, she's furious with hateful preachers, lopsided wage structures, and yuppie parents who dump their kids in daycare and tout the sham of quality time. With a lesser writer, "Wasteland of the Free" would be an unfocused rant, but charging guitar, a catchy hook, and the ugly truth of her vision make the song an anthem for the alienated.
*** Iris DeMent
THE WAY I SHOULD
Songs written in the first person tempt us to assume they're autobiographical, so DeMent's liner notes explain that she's not the sexual-abuse victim in "Letter to Mom." Some people may hate her for this record, she writes, but she'd hate herself if she weren't honest about her beliefs. The music is just as true.
-- Bruce Sylvester
(Iris DeMent plays the Berklee Performance Center next Friday, November 8.)