3.5 stars (out of 4)
Iris DeMent made a dramatic impression in the ‘90s with two stark albums that blended hard-core country and
Little has changed, and that's good news. DeMent's nasal twang is a touch deeper, but still bears an open-hearted warmth, investing every note she sings with an ancient sincerity. Her songs continue to point back to her rural, Arkansas upbringing; she was one of 14 children in a deeply religious family. But she's also a skeptic and critical thinker; for all the empathy in her songs, she rarely succumbs to sentimentality or cheap bromides. She openly struggles with her faith ("The Night I Learned How Not to Pray"), mortality ("Before the Colors Fade") and depression ("Livin' on the Inside," "Out of the Fire"). The music is wider ranging than her early records, touching on Southern soul, country and gospel with subtle horn ornamentation. But the mostly midtempo melodies are centered on DeMent's voice and piano, as they should be. On this quiet beauty of an album, she once again makes a virtue of her modesty.