Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Iris Dement's debut album "Infamous Angel"

Iris Dement's unique voice, classic style, and brilliant songs have allowed her to stand out as one of the most beloved and respected country singers of the past few decades. The youngest of 14 children, Iris was born in Arkansas but grew up singing gospel music with her family in California. After college, Iris moved to Nashville to pursue a music career. Four years later in 1992, she recorded a debut album Infamous Angel, that is one of the best records of the last 20 years.

For those of you who aren't familiar, this should serve as a nice introduction. For those out there who have been blessed with her music before, I hope this brings back some nice memories.

Here are live performances followed by album tracks of two of my favorite songs on Infamous Angel.

Iris performing "Our Town" in her first appearance on Austin City Limits.

Iris Dement - Our Town (from Infamous Angel)

From the DVD of Transatlantic Sessions in 1995, "Let the Mystery Be."

Iris Dement - "Let the Mystery Be" (from Infamous Angel)

The album is one of the rare records to receive 5 stars from in this review by Jim Smith here. Since it is so well written, I'll post the full text of the review:

A remarkable debut, Infamous Angel established Iris DeMent as one of the greatest artists of her generation. With her gift for poignant, confessional songwriting and a voice that makes raw beauty seem like a brand new thing, she invokes the elemental magic of the Carter Family while sounding as fresh and modern as John Prine (who, not surprisingly, is one of her biggest champions). DeMent's concerns are largely family and tradition, and many of these songs deal with memories of life and love. Her Carter influence is revealed in a spirited cover of the classic "Fifty Miles of Elbow Room" as well as "Mama's Opry," a tribute to her mother, who also sings lead on "Higher Ground." These are wonderful, but DeMent's greater talent is the ballad, and she delivers an astonishing handful, including "When Love Was Young," "Sweet Forgiveness," and "After You're Gone," a tribute to her dying father that is so profoundly affecting that one is rendered nearly helpless listening to it. In the end, one finishes this record somber but refreshed by DeMent's charming, almost naïve, outlook on life. That naïveté isn't an act, either — DeMent claims in her liner notes that she's never thought of herself as a great singer. She couldn't be more wrong, and listeners can thank heaven that she changed her mind, for this is an album to be cherished and played as long as one has life to listen.

In short, you need to get this. Look for an upcoming post on Iris Dement's excellent duets with John Prine soon enough. Thanks for checking this out.

Buy Iris Dement's Infamous Angel at


  1. I love me some Iris. I became Demented when I heard her and Prine singing "In spite of Ourselves".

    Unfortunately, the only time I tried to see her in person (traveled 200 miles), she was a no-show.

  2. The first time I was introduced to her was when she sang with John Prine on "Sessions at West 54th." Never heard anything like the great duets they did together that night. "In Spite of Ourselves" is my favorite, but I also love "Let's Invite Them Over Again." That song is hilarious.

    That's a shame about not getting to see her. Hopefully, we'll both get the chance to see her for the first time someday soon.

  3. I also stumbled into Iris at a John Prine show. She was the opening act which my girlfriend (now my wife) & I decided to skip. We walked in a saw this tiny little lady in a green dress with a great big guitar & even bigger voice. I caught the last half of "Let the Mystery Be" & kicked myself for missing her set when I realized that was her encore & watched her leave.

  4. Iris should have sung in "Oh, Brother where are Thou". She's the most honest person and gifted country/bluegrass/gospel singer-songwriter I came across on internet. She absolutely gives me the shivers and makes me want to be a good man. I love her so much. --- Filip (Belgium).