LIVE: Iris DeMent @ The Egg, 11/13/15

December 3rd, 2015, 3:00 pm by Greg

Review by Greg Haymes

Gospel music seeped into the pores of almost every song that Iris DeMent sang during her Albany concert last month, from her opening “The Kingdom Has Already Come” to the encore of “There’s a Whole Lotta Heaven.” She was seated at the grand piano on the stage of The Egg’s Swyer Theatre, but her style of playing came straight from church basements all throughout America’s heartland.

Backed up by the trio of bassist Chris Donohue (who sometimes played bass on a ukulele through an octave splitter), the minimalist, no-frills drumming of Bryan Owlings and multi-instrumentalist Jon Graboff (who divided his time between electric guitar, pedal steel and mandolin), DeMent drew the crowd in with her fusion of gospel, folk and old-school country music, but the 54-year-old singer-songwriter also had a curve ball in her repertoire – a big one.

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Her new album, The Trackless Woods, is the culmination of a four-year project in which she’s been setting music to the poems of the late Russian writer Anna Akhmatova. It’s an unlikely, unexpected venture for a songwriter so deeply immersed in fly-over country – she was born in Arkansas and is a longtime resident of Iowa – but she devoted half of her 90-minute concert to those songs. The no-borders “collaboration” isn’t a natural fit, but at The Egg DeMent made it work most of the time, especially with the almost hymn-like “And This You Call Work,” the spiritual “Song About Songs” and “From an Airplane,” which she infused with a bit of Johnny Cash’s spirit and love of the land.

Midway during her show, she switched from piano to acoustic guitar, raising the tempo as well as the mood in the theater considerably with a brace of songs that included a pretty rollicking cover of “Walkin’ Daddy” by her husband Greg Brown, a country dance hall scoot through the title track of her 1992 debut album Infamous Angel and a positively perky rendition of “Let the Mystery Be,” her self-described “funeral song.”

DeMent’s step-daughter Pieta Brown opened the show with a 40-minute solo set that suffered a bit from too much sameness, but songs like the opening volley of “Wishes Falling Through the Rain” and “Calling All Angels” were stand-outs, showcasing Brown’s talents as a passionate lyricist.

NOTE: And just in case you want to complete the family circle, Greg Brown – DeMent’s husband and Pieta’s father – is scheduled to play The Egg on April 15.

IRIS DeMENT SET LIST
The Kingdom Has Already Come
Makin’ My Way Back Home
Sing the Delta
Like a White Stone
And This You Call Work
Listening to Singing
All Is Sold
Not With Deserters
???
Walkin’ Daddy (Greg Brown)
Let the Mystery Be
Infamous Angel
???
Song About Songs
From an Airplane
The Last Toast
ENCORES
There’s a Whole Lotta Heaven
My Life