Iris DeMent’s debut release, remastered for vinyl…
Iris DeMent – Infamous Angel – Yep Roc Records #YEP 2561 – 1992 – Vinyl – ****
(Iris DeMent – vocals and acoustic guitar; Mark Howard – acoustic guitar; Stuart Duncan – fiddle, mandolin; Pete Wasner – piano; Al Perkins – dobro; – Jerry Douglas – dobro on “Infamous Angel” – Roy Husky, Jr. – upright bass; Emmylou Harris – harmony vocal on “Mama’s Opry” – Jim Rooney – harmony vocal on “Fifty Miles of Elbow Room” – Flora Mae DeMent – lead vocal on “Higher Ground”)
Iris DeMent made a huge impression on her debut album, Infamous Angel.
She had a unique “girlish” voice with a tremulous twang. Her song lyrics were confessional with a down to earth honesty, “heart on the sleeve.”
Life and love intersected with family and religion.
Iris was born in 1961 in rural Arkansas, the youngest of 14 children. The family soon moved to California. Their roots remained in the country and her family was deeply religious. She became exposed to country and folk in her teenage years. It wasn’t till she was 30 years old before she recorded this album, which caught the fancy of other folk and country artists, including John Prine, who became an instant fan.
Her lyrics are wise, and deal with the hardships of life, with love and death often taking center stage. The album opens with “Let the Mystery Be.” It is a heady mix about the mystery of our time on earth, and the impending after life. Whether our ending be in purgatory or in heaven, live life to the fullest, and “let the mystery be.”
“These Hills” is bittersweet, as life as a child merges later into “like the flowers, I am fading into my setting sun.” “Hotter than Mojave in My Heart’ shows the sensual side of this unpredictable woman, as she describes the lover who “tipped my apple cart” and “made me hotter than Mojave in my heart.”
“When Love Was Young” deals with fading love, as “kids are gone, we’ve had our day, I never dreamed that today would come…”
“Our Town” was a standout track for Iris. It deals with the demise of “Small Town, USA.” As DeMent mourns, “nothing good ever lasts, time to move on. I can see the sun gone down on my town.”
Side two continues the journey of life, starting with the title track. It deals with returning to your roots, after sowing your oats – infamous angel going home to someone who loves her. “Sweet Forgiveness” asks a partner for forgiveness after a transgression, knowing it will be granted as he says, “ I understand and still love you.”
“After You’re Gone” was written for her dying father, from the perspective of her mother, mourning the loss of her soulmate. It comes from strength and maturity- “I’ve memorized each line on your face.. “there will be laughter after you’re gone.” Our love will endure.
“Mama’s Opry” is a tender song about her mother, a simple honest woman who felt the power and joy of country gospel. It was a relief from life’s burdens, and a reason to go on.
This brilliant debut ends with “Higher Ground,” with Iris’ mother, Flora Mae, on lead vocals. Backed by a four person choir, Flora sings the hymn about living the righteous life, setting aside doubts. It has the feel of a classic Carter Family song.
Iris has continued on her journey with many stops along the way, including as a regular of The Prairie Home Companion. Her first album opened the door, and now with remastered sound, in a warm brown vinyl color, it’s a great way to rediscover her unique talents.
Let the Mystery Be
Hotter than Mojave in My Heart
When Love Was Young
Fifty Miles of Elbow Room
After You’re Gone