Iris Dement concert set for Sunday in Grass Valley
Grammy Award-nominated singer-songwriter Iris Dement will stop in Grass Valley for a concert presented by The Center for the Arts on Oct. 25 as part of the release tour of her sixth studio album, “The Trackless Woods.”
Dement got her start in 1992 with her debut album, “Infamous Angel.” Throughout her musical career, Dement has earned multiple Grammy nominations and the respect of her peers like: John Prine, Steve Earle and Emmylou Harris.
Merle Haggard called her “the best singer I’ve ever heard” and asked Dement to join his touring band. David Byrne and Natalie Merchant covered her song, “Let The Mystery Be” as a duet on MTV Unplugged.
In 2012, DeMent’s album, “Sing The Delta” received rave reviews.
Looking back on her own childhood, DeMent sometimes felt like there was some intangible element that hadn’t quite clicked yet.
“Growing up, a lot of what I understood about my parents — and many of the adults in my life that were nurturing me — I understood through music,” said DeMent, who was born the youngest of 14 children in Arkansas and raised in southern California.
“I remember noticing that people seem to be most their real selves when they were in the music. My dad would cry and my mom would wave her arms around when they sang church music.”
Dement and her husband raised an adopted Russian daughter in their Iowa City home.
“She was six when we adopted her, and there was a whole culture that had been translated to her in those critical years that I didn’t feel like I could get through to with the tools I had. So always in the back of my mind, I had this sense of wanting to figure out how to link her two worlds, Russian and American.”
Twenty-three years after her debut, Iris Dement is creating some of the most poignant music of her career, bridging two seemingly disparate worlds with every note.
It was by pure chance that Iris DeMent opened the book of Russian poetry sitting on her piano bench to Anna Akhmatova’s “Like A White Stone.”
She’d never heard of the poet before. The anthology was on loan from a friend. As she read, though, a curious sensation swept over her.
“I didn’t feel like I was alone anymore,” remembers DeMent. “I felt as if somebody walked in the room and said to me, ‘Set that to music.’”
So she did.
The melody poured out of her almost instantly. She turned the page and it happened again, and again after that, and before she even fully understood it, she was deep into writing what would become “The Trackless Woods,” an album that sets Akhmatova’s poetry to music for the first time.
She found that Akhmatova’s poetry was the link and more that she was looking for with her daughter. In addition, the poems drew DeMent into a journey through Russian political and artistic history.
“Her whole adult working life was marked by this constant struggle to do her work in the face of the Bolshevik Revolution, World War I, World War II, and Stalin,” DeMent said of the poet who often lived in poverty and lost one husband to execution and another to the forced labor camp, the Gulag.
“She wasn’t some elevated star figure exempted from suffering, she was right there in it. All of her poetry came out of that,” said Dement.
Recorded in DeMent’s living room under the guidance of Producer Richard Bennett, the music is firmly rooted in the American South. DeMent’s versatility and depth as an artist is heard by the way she can make the work of a 20th century Russian poet sound like Sunday morning on a cotton plantation.
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