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. ;-)

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.