Iris Dement is pretty unpredictable. Since 1996 there have been only two albums Lifeline (2004) and Sing The Delta (2012), with the latter particularly being hailed as a welcome and glorious return to the spotlight with its rich vein of yearning and emotive stories.
So for another new release to come through from this exceptional artist so quickly caught me a little off guard. To add to the intrigue, The Trackless Woods (to be released on August 7 on Flariella Records) contains Dement’s original music and melodies set to eighteen poems by Russian poet Anna Akhmatova (1889-1996).
Akhmatova survived revolution, world wars and dictatorship and lost in dire circumstances family, friends and fellow writers along the way. Apparently, Iris was immediately taken by Akhmatova’s poems – by the depth of sorrow and her strength of spirit.
The Trackless Woods was recorded in her living room over a five-day period. What you can expect is primarily Iris and her piano. There are other accompaniments (eg electric guitar, pedal steel, mandolin, percussion and, I think, cello**) all used tastefully and sparingly to serve Dement’s vision which is largely a personal celebration and exultation from one artist to another. To gain access to, and understanding of, what’s on offer here requires some effort and its texture might not be to everyone’s taste. For me, the new album does not possess the immediate appeal of the material on Sing The Delta. Others may well find the beauty and serenity here highly attractive. And there’s always that distinctive, yearning voice.
DeMent and her husband (and fellow singer-songwriter) Greg Brown adopted from Russia their daughter when she was six and this lovingly crafted project has I expect fulfilled a desire to connect with her adopted daughter’s culture and history.
The Tracklist of The Trackless Woods
1. To My Poems
2. Broad Gold
3. And This You Call Work
4. From The Oriental Notebook
6. Not With Deserters
7. All Is Sold
8. Reject The Burden
9. From An Airplane
10. Oh How Good
11. Like A White Stone
12. Song About Songs
13. Listening To Singing
14. Lot’s Wife
15. Upon The Hard Crest
16. The Souls Of All My Dears
17. Last Toast
18. It’s Not With A Lover’s Lyre including Anna Akhmatova’s recitation of “The Muse”
** despite best efforts, I have yet been unable to identify the musicians and instruments involved – my copy of the album lacks any liner notes. If anyone can help, please let me know!
Thanks to Max Lefkowitz of Shore Fire Media for providing me with a copy of the liner notes and I can therefore pass on the following recording details.
Produced by Richard Bennett & Iris DeMent
Recorded, mixed and mastered by Paul Dugre (except for “Lot’s Wife”, the horn section, treadle organ and Pieta Brown’s harmonies were recorded by Brad Jones at Alex The Great in Nashville, TN. Greg Brown’s harmonies were recorded by John Svec at EarthTone in Iowa City, Iowa)
Iris DeMent / Piano, vocals
Richard Bennett / Gut string guitar, electric guitar, guitarphone
Jon Graboff / Pedal steel, mandolin
Dave Jacques / Acoustic bass
Leo Kottke / 12 string guitar, electric guitar on “From An Airplane”
Bryan Owings / Percussion
Chris Dunn / Trombone, Bill Huber / Trombone, Steve Herrman / Flugel – Horn section on “Oh, How Good”
Jim Hoke / B3 organ on “Song About Songs”
Bo Ramsey / Electric guitar on “Soul’s of All My Dears”
Constie Brown and Leo Kottke / harmony vocals on “Listening To Singing
Greg Brown and Iris DeMent / harmony vocals on “Not With Deserters”,
Pieta Brown / harmony vocals on “All Is Sold”