Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Iris DeMent: Sing the Delta [Flariella, 2012]
From its opening chords, DeMent's own piano rolling beneath nearly every track--vernacular church piano, piano you can imagine a church lady playing--is the conceptual backbone of her first album of originals in 16 years. After "livin' on the inside too much," books "stacked on my table," she's ambitious intellectually like it or not, and the album has a James Agee quality right down to the unflattering cover photo of the 51-year-old artist. DeMent craves stuff she can "see and touch," but her songwriting makes do just fine with feeling. However thickly she applies her drawl, she left the South at four, and figures out how to correct for that absence by force of artistic will. The laxest concepts drift toward the commonplace, but that's what the piano is celebrating, so you forgive her. The strongest concepts bear down on her parents and their faith, which she loves on their behalf and rejects on her own. "The Night I Learned How Not to Pray" has no piano at all. A-