In the records she's released since, DeMent has grown and changed as an artist, of course. Lifeline is a return to the songs she grew up with: thirteen ancient (or at least ancient-sounding) deeply Christian songs produced with frank reverence for the good churchgoing people who wrote them so long ago. These are songs that poured out of moments of joy, questioning, and hope, and DeMent honors this with a spare, acoustic treatment that lets the beautiful words ride on her wide-open voice.
Gospel music has always presented something of a quandary to me. Through its sheer populist power, it's made the leap from church picnic to rock album and beyond. It's fun. It's undeniable. It's uplifting. But I've always felt a little like I should pay some cosmic rental fee for singing it, since I don't particularly abide by many of its literal messages. If you regard it purely metaphorically, however — and I'm always happy to do so — it fits quite nicely with pretty much any faith you can name. Faith of course is the operative word. These are songs that bring comfort to those who sing them, that bring the promise of a better day. Iris DeMent was made to sing them.
Iris DeMent returns to the Ark on Saturday, May 12.
[Review published May 2007]