I recently boasted on one of those stupid Facebook lists that my musical loves ranged from Skinny Puppy's "Worlock" to this beauty here. Just to show how open-minded I was about music. And looking back, I hate that I did that. People who do that invariably have pretty narrow musical tastes.
Having said that, yes, Iris DeMent and Skinny Puppy are pretty far removed from one another. Skinny Puppy is among the best industrial acts out there, bearing witness to a dystopian postmodern world where life - particularly animal life - is devalued and exploited mercilessly, with lyrics and music that are disjointed, distorted, and ugly. Iris DeMent, on the other hand, is a humble old-time folk singer/songwriter whose songs often sound like they could come rolling out your grandpa's old Victrola, alongside Maybelle Carter and Jimmie Rodgers. Her voice is unfettered and untrained, her emotions pure and naive, and at least for one album, her soul seems utterly pristine, untouched by ugliness of any sort. But there is one similarity between "Worlock" and "When My Morning Comes Around"...both are the undeniable apices to their respective mediocre albums, both by artists who are otherwise excellent.
Now. When people talk about good old-fashioned redemption, or sing about it in hymns, THIS is how it's supposed to sound. Sturdy basic Southern gospel piano, slide guitars and fiddles buttress the swelling emotion, beginning a stately...well, hymn, really. It evokes a loving, forgiving God who knows just how badly you've sinned, who knows the anguish you're suffering as a result, and who will always grant a second chance to get your life right. This is the kind of affirming spiritual guidance that Iris DeMent lives her life by.
And then Iris opens her mouth. It's been a long time since she first sang naively about heaven being "a garden, bunch o' carrots and little sweet peas" on her impressive debut, Infamous Angel. After her wide-eyed optimism, she took a hard, uncomfortably dry-eyed look at the world around her on My Life, full of crumbling relationships, petrifying lives, and wistful remembrances of her past. Iris made an impressive leap in maturity between those two albums, but when she begins singing on this, the first song on The Way I Should, it's apparent her voice is also now more sure of itself, more expressive, and her nasal twang - a fair bit of an acquired taste, let's be honest - has been tempered to great effect. The result is gorgeous.
But this song would merely be a pretty little ditty if the lyrics weren't so damned profound. Iris is standing at a watershed here, looking back at a life lived so wrong, and ever so grateful for the chance to get it right again lying ahead. There's a tinge of wistfulness and regret as she sings about the place she lives now about to "burn to ash and cinder," but it's fleeting. Iris looks forward to the time when "for once, I won't be thinking there's something wrong with me." Raise your hand, people, if you've ever felt hamstrung by your shortcomings. Then give this song a listen. Let it permeate your soul. And if you don't feel a tear of recognition coming to your eye, you've a heart of cold black obsidian.