Iris DeMent
Presented by Greenhouse Productions:

Iris DeMent

Ana Egge

$35.50 - $50.00
All Ages
Greenhouse Productions presents Iris DeMent with Ana Egge

It was by pure chance that Iris DeMent opened the book of Russian poetry sitting on her piano bench to Anna Akhmatova's "Like A White Stone." She'd never heard of the poet before, and didn't even consider herself much of a poetry buff, but a friend had leant her the anthology and it only seemed polite that she skim it enough to have something interesting to say when she returned it. As she read, though, a curious sensation swept over her.

"I didn't feel like I was alone anymore," remembers DeMent. "I felt as if somebody walked in the room and said to me, 'Set that to music.'" So she did. The melody just poured out of her almost instantly. She turned the page and it happened again, and again after that, and before she even fully understood it, she was already deep into writing what would become 'The Trackless Woods,' an album which sets Akhmatova's poetry to music for the first time ever. 'The Trackless Woods,' DeMent's sixth studio album, is unlike anything else in her illustrious career. Beginning with her 1992 debut, 'Infamous Angel,' which was hailed as "an essential album of the 1990's" by Rolling Stone, DeMent released a series of stellar records that established her as "one of the finest singer-songwriters in America" according to The Guardian. The music earned her multiple Grammy nominations, as well as the respect of peers like John Prine, Steve Earle, and Emmylou Harris, who all invited her to collaborate. Merle Haggard dubbed her "the best singer I've ever heard" and asked her to join his touring band, and David Byrne and Natalie Merchant famously covered her "Let The Mystery Be" as a duet on MTV Unplugged. DeMent returned in 2012 with her most recent album, 'Sing The Delta,' which prompted NPR to call her "one of the great voices in contemporary popular music" and The Boston Globe to hail the collection as "a work of rare, unvarnished grace and power."

Meanwhile, behind the scenes, DeMent and her husband were raising their adopted Russian daughter in their Iowa City home. When she looked back on her own childhood, though, DeMent sometimes felt like there was some intangible element that hadn't quite clicked yet.

"Growing up, a lot of what I understood about my parents—and many of the adults in my life that were nurturing me—I understood through music," explains DeMent, who was born the youngest of 14 children in Arkansas and raised in southern California. "I remember noticing that people seem to be most their real selves when they were in the music. My dad would cry my mom would wave her arms around when they sang church music. So I figured out at some point that there was a breakdown there with my daughter. She was six when we adopted her, and there was a whole culture that had been translated to her in those critical years that I didn’t feel like I could get through to with the tools I had. So always in the back of my mind, I had this sense of wanting to figure out how to link her two worlds, Russian and American."

Akhmatova's poetry proved to be that link and more, as it drew DeMent into a remarkable journey through Russian political and artistic history. "Her whole adult working life was marked by this constant struggle to do her work in the face of the Bolshevik Revolution, World War I, World War II, and Stalin," DeMent says of Akhmatova. "The estimates are that between 20-80 million people died during those 30 years he was in power. One of her husbands was executed, one died in the gulag, and her son was sent there twice just by virtue of being her son. She often lived in poverty and out of other people’s homes, never owned a place of her own. She wasn't some elevated star figure exempted from suffering, she was right there in it. All of her poetry came out of that."

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What’s most immediately striking about Ana Egge’s latest, Is It the Kiss, is its rich sonic coherence. Ana’s at the center, but the term singer/songwriter doesn’t cover it. This is much more than words and tunes — the whole is informed by her deeply-rooted musical intelligence. It’s only because she defies category that she usually winds up in the folk bin, but from the beginning she’s been inspired by the raunchy warmth and laid-back intensity of singers such as Etta James and Ann Peebles, while emulating the strangely sturdy crystalline quality, real and true, of Dolly Parton. As a guitarist, early on, Ana dug into the picking patterns and driving right hand of Big Bill Broonzy, Mississippi John Hurt, and Elizabeth Cotten, while also absorbing the swinging, behind-the-beat phrasing of Django Reinhardt. The country side of things is well represented on the album by pedal steel (Matt Davidson) and fiddle (Alex Hargreaves) and by the songs “Cocaine Cowboys” and her affecting duet with Iris Dement on a cover of Diana Jones’ “Ballad of the Poor Child.” But, actually, this is something of a soul record. The tracks are grounded by the Brooklyn indie all-star rhythm section of Jacob Silver and Robin MacMillan, the slow grooves are sweetened by horns like molasses (Cole Kamen-Green and Adam Dotson), and at the center of it all is Ana’s guitar, which sounds like it knows something about how Steve Cropper and Curtis Mayfield could delicately, but determinedly, provide a sweetly beating funky heart. Plus there are alt-guitar flashes by Buck Meek (Big Thief), and the whole is pulled together by arranger/producer/instrumentalist Alec Spiegelman (Cuddle Magic).

In and among those grooves is the mind and heart behind Ana’s song-stories. She says that writing slows her down, that she has to figure out what she’s feeling, that she can write herself into an understanding, and that she feels a mystery to herself and the songs provide a window in. What we see through that window is an embrace of life in all its complexity and ambiguity. The heartbreak of “Teacake and Janey,” the study in struggling and suffering that is “James,” the western noir that is sketched in “Chasing Rabbits in the Sun” are all told with clear-eyed elliptic precision, without judgement, as part of the necessary sorrow of the world. It’s a hard world she sings about, but not without hope. “Sometimes the work will be hard if it’s ever gonna work at all.” (“Hurt a Little”) “Don’t fall for anyone’s reasons to hate someone. There’s something in us that’s never been lost.” (“Rise Above”) “How do we love? We dream of what could be.” (“What Could Be”)