One of my favorite Iris DeMent moments is her title-track duet with John Prine on his 1999 disc In Spite of Ourselves: "He ain't got laid in a month of Sundays/I caught him once, and he was sniffin' my undies/He ain't too sharp, but he gets things done/Drinks his beer like it's oxygen," she sings.
It is a genuinely rare thing to find a female vocalist with the attitude -- a sort of world-weary, bemused quality -- required to go toe-to-toe with Prine and his lyrics. And like Prine, DeMent possesses not only an original voice, but a personality that is immediate and genuine -- qualities separating her from alt-country performers who wear a thin veneer of "authenticity"; these include Lucinda Williams and her "mumbling junkie" routine and Gillian Welch, whose explicit desire to live inside one of Dorothea Lange's Dust Bowl photos burns brighter than young Bob Dylan's.
DeMent's power as a performer is doubled by her equally impressive talent as a writer. So if you've already made plans for May 11, cancel them: There isn't another artist more deserving of a wider audience.
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