Iris DeMent walked onto the Watergate stage in Kilkenny in a grey check below the knee dress that did not hide her fuller figure. She wore flat black one-strap shoes, carried a bottle of water and a battered black box of tissues and plectrums. She sat at the grand piano, flicked her hair over her right ear and launched into Sweet Is The Melody from My Life and it could have been a sweet memory for her fiddle-player dad, Patrick Shaw DeMent who died in 1992.
Her voice was as distinctive as the first time I heard her on the radio with Our Town and my memory of her in that title track –
But I gave joy to my mother
I made my lover smile
And I can give comfort to my friends when they’re hurting
I can make it seem better for a while.
That hometown reflective bittersweetness.
She honey-tonked into Let The Mystery Be from her first 1992 album Infamous Angel. Then into her revival phase from Oh Brother Where Art Thou with a church song like on her 2004 work Lifeline. She cancelled a show in 2003 in protest at the Iraq invasion and faded from the airwaves for a while.
Iris introduced a new song written for her mother’s 90th Birthday. Flora Maw was her bedrock and inspiration and Iris fulfilled her mother’s dream of being on the Grand Ole Oprey.
Guitar in hand, she sang the long He Reached down – You reached down and touched my pain. These spiritual images of old time religion touch a lot of people still, today. Staying with My Life she drawled into Easy’s Getting’ Harder Every Day and then she pleased and amazed with Our Town and that sense of place we all know and remember.
Back at the piano, it was the opening track from her “protest’ album The Way I Should 1996 with the inspirational When My Mornin’ Comes Around and then some new work I didn’t recognise.
Too quickly it was encore time, with Mama’s Oprey and I thought sadly of my own dead Mam – She surely made her mark on me. Then it was Goodnight and God Bless with Keep On The Sunny Side Of Life.
Night’s don’t come sweeter than this.