I had the honour and privilege of finally getting to see Iris DeMent in concert this year, just down the road from where I live. (see review). It was one of the best nights of my life and I have had some great times, so that is saying something. What I love most about Iris, is that she hasn’t sold out. She has remained true to what she wants to do with her music. She doesn’t follow trends, she doesn’t try to conform, she just does what her heart and her head tells her to do.
This album is totally different again from the last one, and that is what Iris does. She evolves. She changes what she wants to change and she keeps what she wants to keep. The essence of Iris is in every album that she records.
The Trackless Woods is 18 songs, which are really poems set to music. The poems are those of Anna Akhmatova, a Russian poet who lived through some of the most turbulent times in history. Iris felt a connection. Iris and her husband, Greg, adopted a Russian girl and Anna’s poems brought a way for Iris to connect with her daughter, but it is more than that.
She played a few of them for us at the concert, and the audience was swept away by the beauty and the depth of the lyrics and the music.
The girl from Arkansas and the girl from Russia may seem like they are from worlds apart, but Iris has a way of connecting the dots when others don’t see the pattern.
It is appropriate that the first track is “To My Poems”. With the exception of a couple of tracks, the songs are short, as most poems are. Iris did a lot of research and nothing has been lost in translation, if anything, her music and her “sound” have enhanced the interpretations of the original poems.
If you want an album that makes you get up and dance or tap your toes, then this is not the one for you. (with a couple of exceptions) It is an album that provides a time for quiet reflection and concentration. It is an album which is thoughtful and intelligent and inspiring. Iris’s music is like a wonderful lullaby. It rocks you to sleep, takes you to a zone that rarely exists these days: far from the madding crowd.
Iris recorded the songs in her living room in Iowa. The poems of her kindred spirit from Russia were translated into English, then they were handed to her for study and admiration. If you didn’t know that the lyrics were poems by a Russian woman, you would think that the songs were just part of Iris’ rich tapestry and her life as we know it through her albums and her Southern perspective.
I have played this album at all times of the day. It is fair to say that Iris’s music is best played late at night or in the wee, small hours of the morning. The songs lull you off into another time and place. I also play Iris’ music when I am not feeling so well, they have a healing quality that commercial medicine doesn’t provide.
Iris’ songs often make me cry, which is interesting, because in real life, she is one of the funniest people that I have ever seen LIVE. Knowing that the poetry is written by a woman who suffered such hardship and sorrow, make the songs sadder and more meaningful, still.
After reading some reviews from America and England, many of them are putting it up as Album of the year. At the very least, they are saying that it is amongst Iris’s best works.
If you aren’t in the mood to contemplate the meanings of these beautiful songs, you can also just settle back on a comfortable chair or couch and take in the sublime vocals, lilting music and soothing overall sound of this recording. When you are in the mood, however, take in the messages, the history and the amazing fortune that is gifted to you in words and music by two amazing women from opposite sides of the fence who are linked by emotional ties and incredible talent.
The last words on the album are a surprise twist. I will leave that to you to listen to. A fitting way to end the album.
Iris never lets me down. Food for the soul.