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Album Review

On the surface, Lifeline, Iris Dement's return to recording after an eight-year hiatus, is a collection of age-old gospel and church tunes from the 19th century — or earlier — in the grand Protestant tradition. He liner notes tell a different story. She recounts how her mother played and sang these songs in times of stress looking straight at the sky, "as if she were talking to someone." She claims that for her, too, the music contained here became her lifeline through a season of hardship, and that when calling her mother from the road in difficult straits, she was told to get to a piano. Dement's raw, high lonesome voice is as out of time as the material, though these presentations are not exactly rough-hewn. They are plaintive but polished with accompaniment from a host of players, including Bo Ramsey, Mark Howard, Stu Basore, Stuart Duncan, and others. Dement plays piano on some tracks, guitar on others. ForDement they may indeed represent places of comfort in the midst of despair and desolation, yet for the casual observer, they feel like simply-rendered, distinguished readings of familiar spirituals. Dement goes out of her way to distance herself from the religion spoken of in these pieces, saying in her notes that the songs represent something bigger than that to her, but to the listener they come off as reverent and quaint, hardly the stuff of earthshaking experience. It is only on "Sweet Hour of Prayer," where Dement accompanies herself on piano, that the notion of shelter from the storm comes through brilliantly and unmistakably. There is one new song here, an original called "He Reached Down" recorded with Ramsey, that reaches the heights of Infamous Angel or "My Life." The narrative, though biblical, is saturated in Dement's singular storytelling manner, where her voice reaches into the grain of the material and pulls at its mystery until its emotion and truth become unfettered and fall free. While this is far from a full return to form for Dement, it is truly good to have her back.

Customer Reviews

Iris is wonderful, as usual

Few singers can so honestly find and lay bare the emotional core of a song as Iris Dement can. Her strong yet sometimes wavery voice cuts through all artifice, and what is left is so real that it can be painful to hear. I'm a tough guy, but she can reduce me to blubber in seconds. Some Iris fans might shy away from "Lifeline" because of its apparent religious themes and content, but there is little dogma or proselytizing here. In fact, I believe that it is the hard core Christian, hoping for the usual reassurances about how "saved" they are, are more likely to be disappointed than the average listener. For the most part these songs, as delivered by Iris, are complex and nuanced, based in a common human need to make a spiritual connection to the universe. This probing reaches its zenith on "Sweet Hour of Prayer," a deeply moving song in which Iris explores almost every angle of that age old question "Why am I here?" Her performance of the song is a soliloquy of astonishing power. Bottom line, don't let the religion scare you away. I'm an agnostic, but after listening to this album several times it has become one of my favorite Iris records.

Iris is so amazing. Lifeline is her best work.

I can't get enough of this woman's voice. It has so much character. It tells stories as clearly as her lyrics do. Lifeline is so refreshing. She has gone back to old-time gospel, the root of folk music. She has made all of these songs listenable by adding her tremendous voice to their lyrics. Highly, highly recommended.


I am a very conservative Christian and this album brings back so many memories of the music I knew as a child. Her voice is so haunting that it almost brings me to tears when I hear these memorable songs being sung by a voice that can never be duplicated. One of a kind.


Born: January 5, 1961 in Paragould, AR

Genre: Country

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

One of the most celebrated country-folk performers of her day, singer/songwriter Iris DeMent was born on January 5, 1961, in rural Paragould, Arkansas, the youngest of 14 children. At the age of three, her devoutly religious family moved to California, where she grew up singing gospel music; during her teenaged years, however, she was first exposed to country, folk, and R&B, drawing influence from Loretta Lynn, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, and Joni Mitchell. Upon graduating high school, she relocated...
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