Iris DeMent

Infamous Angel

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A remarkable debut, Infamous Angel established Iris DeMent as one of the greatest artists of her generation. With her gift for poignant, confessional songwriting and a voice that makes raw beauty seem like a brand new thing, she invokes the elemental magic of the Carter Family while sounding as fresh and modern as John Prine (who, not surprisingly, is one of her biggest champions). DeMent's concerns are largely family and tradition, and many of these songs deal with memories of life and love. Her Carter influence is revealed in a spirited cover of the classic "Fifty Miles of Elbow Room" as well as "Mama's Opry," a tribute to her mother, who also sings lead on "Higher Ground." These are wonderful, but DeMent's greater talent is the ballad, and she delivers an astonishing handful, including "When Love Was Young," "Sweet Forgiveness," and "After You're Gone," a tribute to her dying father that is so profoundly affecting that one is rendered nearly helpless listening to it. In the end, one finishes this record somber but refreshed by DeMent's charming, almost naïve, outlook on life. That naïveté isn't an act, either -- DeMent claims in her liner notes that she's never thought of herself as a great singer. She couldn't be more wrong, and listeners can thank heaven that she changed her mind, for this is an album to be cherished and played as long as one has life to listen.

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