Iris DeMent will close out a 16-year gap since her last album of originals on October 2, when “Sing the Delta” is released on the acclaimed folk singer’s Flariella label. DeMent tells Billboard she’s been “waiting on this bunch of songs” for as long as fans have — since 1996’s “The Way I Should.”
“I think one is from 1998,” she says of one of the dozen songs on the album. “A handful got written this past year and a few others were laying around in pieces. Some of ’em I had but didn’t sing out because I didn’t know if they were any good. Some I just didn’t know how to sing yet.”
By the sound of the title track, debuting exclusively below, DeMent had a good idea how to sing it. Listen:
DeMent credits the group of players who assembled in the studio — including Al Perkins and Reese Wynans and her co-producers Bo Ramsey and Richard Bennett, for helping to put the pieces together for “Delta.”
“They made it possible for me and these songs to settle into a home, so to speak,” she says. “The wait was right. I wasn’t ready up until then. The songs weren’t ready. The right bunch of players, producers, engineers… you name it, it wasn’t there till now. I’m glad I waited.”
DeMent’s pure storytelling and powerful, trembling soprano first floored listeners on her 1992 debut “Infamous Angel,” a collection of introspective songs about faith, loss and love (gone good and bad). Her stunning follow-up a year later, “My Life,” had even more ache and polish, but retained a folky guitar/standup bass/piano soundscape. She toughened things up on “The Way I Should,” adding a rocking sound and cutting social issue-based protest songs like “Wasteland of the Free.” In 2004 she released “Lifeline,” an album of traditional gospel songs.
Musically, the “Sing the Delta” track resembles her previous set of originals — with its horns and drums and overall bluesiness — but lyrically there’s a return to Iris the folksy storyteller. The Arkansas native, who lives in southeast Iowa with her husband, folk singer Greg Brown, explains the song:
I was driving around out here on one of these gravel roads where I live, when the phone rang and it was my stepdaughter Pieta Brown telling me she was on her way down south to mix a record she’d just recorded. My mom was sick at the time… a lot was going on. Mom was born and raised, spent most her life, in the part of the country known as the Arkansas Delta. I have a lot of memories and emotions tied up with that place and I just got so lonesome thinking about it. I wanted to point my car south and return to something, someplace, that in my mind, had always symbolized home. I just started singing to make myself feel better, and out came that song, although, it originally had a very Carter Family kind of a melody and feel. Weeks later when I sat down to revisit it, it came tumbling out just as it is now. Very different but with the same heart. It comforts me every time I sing it. All that I love that seems far away comes back home to me.
To promote “Sing the Delta,” DeMent will make select live appearances, starting Aug. 9 at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles and on Aug. 11 at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville. Other concert dates will dot the rest of the year, mostly on weekends.
“Sing the Delta” tracklisting:
1. Go Ahead And Go Home
2. Before The Colors Fade
3. The Kingdom Has Already Come
4. The Night I Learned How Not To Pray
5. Sing The Delta
6. If That Ain’t Love
7. Livin’ On The Inside
8. Makin’ My Way Back Home
9. Mornin’ Glory
10. There’s A Whole Lotta Heaven
11. Mama Was Always Tellin’ Her Truth
12. Out Of The Fire