She “…was as charming as a dream, and as melancholy as a dove left solitary in its nest by the death of its mate.” Honoré de Balzac wrote those words in Despair in Love, and they sprung to mind while watching Iris DeMent work through her set last night at Nashville’s City Winery. DeMent is a storyteller of the highest order, her voice — metaphorical and otherwise — as pure and piercing as they come. But, as she sat on the piano bench prattling on about this and that, it also became clear that she’s a regular person with an irregular talent.
For instance, as she headed into “Mama Was Always Tellin’ Her Truth,” she paused and said to no one in particular, “I forgot my notes. Should I do it again? It was alright like that,” before continuing on with the tune. It was moments like that which provided the charm. The songs did the rest, quite a few of which came from 2012’s Sing the Delta, including “Livin’ on the Inside,” “Go on Ahead and Go Home,” and “Mornin’ Glory.”
DeMent also previewed a handful of cuts from her upcoming release, The Trackless Woods. That collection was inspired by the writing of Russian poet, Anna Akhmatova, whose words DeMent set to music across the spectrum of country, gospel, and folk that has underscored her career. And, of course, she also reached back to her 1992 debut for “Let the Mystery Be” and “Our Town.” That latter one is the perfect contemporary folk song, with its slow-rambling melody and slightly askew lyrics, and the perfect close to her performance.
Opening the night was Pieta Brown, offspring of Greg Brown. Though her set wasn’t as cool and vibey as her wonderful 2014 release, it was still something more than traditional singer/songwriter fare. For one, Pieta’s melodies lift her work above the fray. For two, her laissez-faire phrasing and delivery recall Bob Dylan in their unhurried way. For three, her gentle, Midwestern spirit and easy smile buoy it all in such a way that it’s impossible not to fall for her.