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Iris DeMent

Country of origin:


Type of music generally:

Country, shading into folk. (


Most recent release, The Trackless Woods (2015)

Covers/own material:

Own material

See also:

Iris DeMent's site

Wikipedia's entry on Iris DeMent

Iris DeMent's Facebook page


Emmylou Harris, Kathy Mattea, Nanci Griffith, each in their own way. (

General comments:

I've listened to her albums over and over and over and over again, straight through and on random repeat, and I just love them to death. HOWEVER, I'M NOT RECOMMENDING THEM. Lots of different factors have to be in place before people will enjoy her music, and I want to make sure everyone understands what they are.
     If you know who Hank Williams Sr. and Lefty Frizzell are and what they sound like, and if you can imagine a female Hank Williams Sr. and Lefty Frizzell, with more modern lyrics, then you can grasp what Iris sounds like. She's more country than country, but better (in my opinion) than 99% of the country out there. She's no "hybrid" like Nanci Griffith or Roseanne Cash, and she's not in it for the fun of it, like kd lang was. Funny, but she's SO traditional-sounding, that she's "alternative" in her own right. Not a country pop diva like Patsy Cline, and not a natural born singer like Loretta Lynn, she's definitely a "love her or hate her" artist, much the same way that Victoria Williams is. They both write wonderful songs, and sing them with a voice that will either enchant and mesmerize or drive a body up the wall. Obviously, I'm in the enchanted and mesmerized category :-). Now, I'm not comparing their voices at all. Victoria's is much more idiosyncratic and filled with child-like wonder. Iris has a voice that's basic and earthy, unpolished and direct. If you can handle very country music, and her voice, then Iris has albums that you should add to your collection. Infamous Angel andMy Life deserve to be heard, deserve to be cried over, deserve to be smiled over, deserve to be cherished. (

Born in Arkansas, raised in California, a past resident of Topeka and a current resident of Kansas City, DeMent has earned herself a firm niche with her first album in the emergent school of female country singers exemplified by the likes of Kathy Mattea and Nanci Griffith, as well as Emmylou Harris' "traditional country" to some extent—music inspired by their own muses, unfettered by the baggage of the Nashville show-business machine. (

Put me down as another who loves Iris' voice. Her style is ultra traditional, which in itself is a breath of fresh air for "country" music. (sspan)

She will eventually be a legend in the same light as Woody Guthrie, Hank Williams, and Patsy Kline. (

Comments about live performance:

I went to this show having heard very little of Iris DeMent's music and came back a dedicated fan. She is absolutely amazing live.
     I decided to go see her mainly because I was curious, and my curiousity was well rewarded (to say the least). Iris put on an absolutely brilliant performance, blowing me away with her voice, her songwriting skills and her stage presence. She played a long set (about 2 hours, including a two song encore) and it was absolutely amazing from end to end. Iris got mad at herself because her voice wasn't living up to her expectations, but if what I heard was less that 100% then I can't even imagine how good she must sound when she'd completely healthy. Despite my limited knowledge of her songs I was utterly captivated all the way through the show. (

Unfortunately, I'm in the driven up the wall category. To be fair, this conclusion is based on a concert experience, rather than listening to any of the albums. I had seen 10,000 Maniacs end a concert with a breathtakingly beautiful version of "Let The Mystery Be", a Natalie Merchant showcase consisting solely of her singing and accompanying herself on piano. I was so captivated by this song that I rushed out to see Iris DeMent when she came to town. She was a warm and personable performer, who was endearing when she told stories, and made me cringe when she sang. I could only take about half a show before I had to leave—one of the few shows I have ever walked out on. (neal)

Recommended first album:



Infamous Angel

Release info:

1992—Philo/Warner Brothers


Wide in the U.S.

Ecto priority:

recommended (

Group Members:

Iris DeMent—vocal/acoustic guitar
Mark Howard—acoustic guitar
Stuart Duncan—fiddle/mandolin
Pete Wasner—piano
Al Perkins, Jerry Douglas—dobro
Roy Husky Jr.—upright bass
Emmylou Harris, Jim Rooney, Hal Ketchum, Jeff Black—backup vocals


While "Let The Mystery Be" is by far the best song on the album, many (alas, not all) of the others are very good indeed. "Hotter Than Mojave in My Heart", "Our Town", and the title track are my favorites. The lyrics, while boasting fewer bends and turns in them than Kate Bush's or Happy Rhodes's, are well-written and clearly place DeMent among country's intelligensia; the acoustic musical accompaniment is of similarly high quality. Some listeners used to ethereality in the female voice may find DeMent's just a wee bit strident; I don't think so myself, but can see why some others might. All in all, ectophiles interested in exploring modern country music bordering on acoustic folk, a safe distance from the "hat acts" that have bamboozled the country audience's imagination of late, are likely to enjoy this one. (

My Life

Release info:

1994—Warner Brothers


Wide in the U.S.


My Life is a tribute to her father and a look back at her childhood. Especially moving is "No Time to Cry' which tells about holding back her feelings at the death of her father so she could get on with her busy life. Iris' songs are very insightful and her voice is just beautiful. (sspan)

The Way I Should

Release info:

1996—Warner Brothers


Wide in the U.S.


I tried to sit down of eloquently describe what it is about this album that excites me so. I can't explain it but Iris "tips my applecart" big time on this one. The most thrilling and enjoyable album I've listened to this year. (

If I remember correctly Iris made my top 10 list last year with The Way I Should which covers some strong social issues, from 'Letter to Mom' where a woman tries to tell of her abuse as a young girl at the hands of her mothers boyfriend to 'Wasteland of the Free' about the ills of American society. (sspan)

Thanks to Neal Copperman for work on this entry.

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DISCLAIMER: Comments and reviews in the Ectophiles' Guide are excerpted from the ecto mailing list or volunteered by members of the list. They are the opinions of music enthusiasts, not professional music critics.

Entry last updated 2022-01-30 19:47:41.
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