Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Iris DeMent: My Life [Warner Bros., 1994]
Although her attack is more austere, DeMent's voice is as country as Kitty Wells's or Loretta Lynn's, and her writing defines the directness sophisticates prize in traditional folk songs--she has something she wants to say, and so she proceeds from Point A to Point B in the straightest line she can draw without a ruler. She doesn't get lost not just because she knows where Point B is, which is rare enough in this ambivalent time, but because she knows where Point A is--she knows that who she is begins with where she comes from, and she's made her peace with that. Unlike so many American artists who outgrow fundamentalism, she's not wracked by rage or guilt; at worst, she's sad about her distance from forebears she loves and admires despite their strict morality--a morality she'll never return to even though it's the bedrock of her personality and ultimately her work. The only change her major-label move means is a firmer commitment to pleasure--that is, to melody. Her dad, who gave up the fiddle when he got saved, would surely understand. A+