More than most in the music industry, Iris DeMent is a thinker. Her musical output is slower than most, not because of indifference, but because she makes sure she has something worthy to share with the listener first. Of these songs on her new album ‘Workin’ on a World’ Iris has said: “Not everybody’s going to get them, but there’s people that get them – and they need them.”
For those weary souls in need of musical shelter, the title track ‘Working on a World’ is a call to prayer. Here is an admission of despair, sadness and dread. Yet she has taken those feelings and used them as a catalyst to write one of the best songs of her career. By reaching back to honour our ancestors she has a renewed sense of purpose going forward – we may not see a better world but we must do all we can to bring it to life.
After being shocked at the lax gun control laws in a town she was playing in, Iris was inspired to write Goin’ Down to Texas. In the face of such horrors she found the only answer was to speak out, letting her anger shine like the best protest singers before her. She also gives overdue credit to The Chicks for their anti-war message and the onslaught they faced. Peace is the message she’s singing for. Violence, and its intertwined roots in misogyny, must end.
The shadow of the Trump years and the division such a figure caused loom over many of these songs. ‘Say a Good Word’ takes on these feelings, trying to remind us to love our neighbour and not drown in ill will.
Central to the album is the question of how to thrive in such a difficult world. ‘The Sacred Now’ asks us to stop and contemplate the beauty and power of the present moment. On paper this might sound a little like Oprah-lite pop-psychology, but her voice offers genuine emotional insight and connection.
Another way she takes on the troubling world around her is to look back and channel those heroes who have gone before. Firstly she sings for ‘Mahalia’ asking the famous gospel singer for answers, gaining strength from her music and paying that debt forward.
When Iris played at Celtic Connections a few years back the highlight of that set was a moving new song for Martin Luther King. Finally recorded for this album ‘How Long’ is an anthem for hopeful souls everywhere. We are reminded that ‘power, greed and profit will never feed the soul’ and we must keep going until ‘righteousness flows like a mighty stream’. Every word is sung with mesmerising and searing strength. To stay the course, dream the dream is the work we must all do.
Workin on a World offers some of the most personal, political and potent music of Iris DeMent’s career. A vivid and vital injection of musical hope, just when we needed it the most.
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